How naturalization and integration go hand-in-hand

Sept. 17 is Citizenship Day! Naturalization is one of the most empowering and significant events in an immigrant’s integration journey. Few experiences have a similar ability to transform a person’s life for the better.

Like most events this summer, CLS Miami, a local partner of the New Americans Campaign, or NAC, will be hosting its mega naturalization workshop virtually this year. With a goal of filing 400 applications, the #NaturalizeMiami event is just one of several virtual naturalization workshops that NAC partners and other immigration legal programs will be hosting this year. In the wake of COVID-19 and the detrimental fee increases, immigration legal programs are utilizing innovative practices to offer naturalization assistance to lawful permanent residents, or LPRs.

Citizenship Day — formally known as “I am an American Day” — began in 1940 after Congress passed a joint resolution requesting the president designate the third Sunday of May as the day to celebrate everyone who attained U.S. citizenship. However, after repealing the resolution twelve years later, Congress passed a law designating Sept. 17 as Citizenship Day. The new date pays tribute to the drafting and signing of the Constitution of the United States, which occurred on Sept. 17, 1787. Regardless of these changes, the purpose of the day remains to, “recognize all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become citizens.” Citizenship Day has become a weeklong celebration for many immigrants and their allies, alike, who take the opportunity to educate and reflect on the rights and responsibilities of all U.S. Citizens.

The important milestone of naturalizing is often a lengthy, complex and costly journey for many immigrants and their families. Protection from deportation and access to public benefits are just a few key benefits of citizenship. They allow immigrants to participate in their communities in a more expansive and robust way, without fear or hesitation, strengthening the integration process for foreign and native-born residents. With over 700,000 immigrants naturalizing a year, the economic impact is vital. Naturalized citizens are likely to secure higher paying jobs, increasing the employment rate by 2.2 percent as well as their own income according to the Cities for Citizenship.1 Previous census data also shows that naturalized citizens are twice as likely to be homeowners compared to foreign-born residents who have not naturalized yet. Secondly, educational opportunities widen as federal aid and several scholarships for higher education require U.S. citizenship.

Another benefit is the chance for family reunification. Naturalized citizens can sponsor more family members to reunite with in the United States, and the children of naturalized citizens under the age of 18 may qualify for derivative citizenship, creating a positive future for generations to come. Naturalized citizens can make their voices heard by engaging in full civic participation, having the freedom to vote in national, state, and local elections, and have the liberty to run for office.

CLINIC has been a founding National Partner for the New Americans Campaign, or NAC, since its beginning in 2011. With 31 CLINIC affiliates in a pool of over 200 partners, CLINIC offers technical assistance and flow through funding for programs that offer low- to no-cost for N-400 application assistance for eligible lawful permanent residents. As of June 2020, NAC has filed over 450,000 naturalization applications — offering over 160,000 fee waivers and reduced fee requests — saving over 440 million dollars for LPRs.

CLINIC applauds the efforts of our network and countless other nonprofits advocating for the rights of immigrants and ensuring integration is occurring at the local level. For a chance to be featured in our newsletter, share with us your citizenship story and immigrant integration initiatives.

1 Cities for Citizenship. America is Home: How Individuals, Families, Cities & Counties Benefit by Investing in Citizenship