Citizenship Day: Honoring Newcomers and Immigrant Champions

Tessa W. McKenzie

On Constitution and Citizenship Day, we honor, not only the newcomers who have and will naturalize, but also the champions who guide them through complex immigration processes and embark on innovative ways to overcome obstacles to immigrant integration. Thanks to affiliates like Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Charlotte and partnerships like the New Americans Campaign (NAC), more, diverse groups of lawful permanent residents have engaged with their communities to access quality, charitable legal immigration services and become United States Citizens.

One of eleven affiliates funded by a multi-year grant from CLINIC to promote citizenship, Catholic Charities a co-site leader for the Charlotte NAC. Together with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the Latin American Coalition, and the Southeast Asian Coalition, the organizations build upon their strengths to shape an integrated approach for outreach and group workshop events in the greater Charlotte area. 

Marina Gundorin, Immigration Supervisor at Catholic Charities considers the NAC important for encouraging naturalization among the large Latino, Asian, and Slavic populations in their 16-county service area. Catholic Charities, she explains, has long served individuals from the former Soviet Union, however, the organization is now a resource to Latin American and Southeast Asian communities as a result of their NAC collaboration. 

The Charlotte NAC has proven effective due to the fruitful partnerships of collaborating organizations as well as their network of dedicated volunteers. The group’s large-scale naturalization workshops would not be possible without the generosity of students at the Charlotte School of Law, local pro bono attorneys, volunteers from the immigrant community, and parishes. Marina explains, “The entire community is engaged.” Truly, community involvement extends to every aspect of the Charlotte NAC’s naturalization workshops. For example, the events typically take place at donated locations including libraries, universities, or at partner organizations. Although a struggle to move printers and arrange mobile hotspots, the NAC even held a citizenship workshop at a private barn to encourage citizenship in North Carolina’s rural Hmong community. 

Out of the box strategies for engagement are further markers of the Charlotte NAC’s success. Legal review and advice is provided at every Citizenship Workshop to ensure quality assurance; next steps are given and all questions are answered by Board of Immigration Appeals accredited representatives or attorneys. Another best practice, Marina suggests the inclusion of a check-out station where free study guide materials are available so individuals can start preparing for the civic test. NAC check-out stations have included civics test cards, workbooks, practice vocabulary terms, and audio CDs. 

Today, as we recognize the immigrants who enrich our nation, may we also give thanks for the charitable legal immigration service providers working together to innovate and build stronger, more welcoming communities. 

For more ideas to promote naturalization and immigrant integration, visit: