Our country attracts people seeking a better life. It is a country of immigrants. Yet, throughout history immigrants from all over the world faced hostility and distrust after their arrival to America. The hostility switches course and is usually aimed at the newcomer. Ironically, most people at some point in history were targets of this hostile prejudice. This is a heated topic throughout the United States but especially in California. More than 25 percent of California is composed of immigrants. We now lead the nation with over 2.4 million legal permanent residents eligible to naturalize.
The Catholic Bishops of the United States encourage Catholics to work together on behalf of the rights of immigrants. By focusing on the future, we can help legal permanent residents become citizens. Due to a lack of funding, community-based organizations struggle to meet the needs of this important group of people. The Naturalization Services Program (NSP) provides citizenship application assistance to legal permanent residents seeking to naturalize.
To become a citizen of the United States is a long and complicated process. Many people do not have the resources or finances to cover the expenses associated with obtaining citizenship. Those that are low-income, seniors or limited English speakers are especially vulnerable. State-funded NSP grants would allow community-based organizations to assist many more of those eligible with citizenship classes, provide help with completing the 21-page application as well with paying the application fee of $680. Furthermore, with the possibility of federal immigration reform in the near future, the state may be left unprepared for the influx of many more people eligible for provisional status. Without NSP services, many immigrants may be discouraged and or unable to afford to apply for citizenship.
Community-based organizations, such as Catholic Charities, have demonstrated significant success in both attracting and assisting applicants for citizenship in an efficient use of state funds. This year, a coalition of organizations, including the California Catholic Conference, are requesting $20 million in the state budget for 2015-2016, as part of a new proposal to develop a program under the Department of Social Services, titled: One California: Coordinating Citizenship and Immigration Assistance. This proposal would, not only restore funding for NSP, but also provide education, outreach, and application assistance for those who qualify under the federal Deferred Action Programs. These deferred action programs include one for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and one for Parents of Americans (DAPA).
By providing grant funding for DACA/DAPA and restoring the funding to NSP, thousands of legal permanent residents will be able to become citizens. Unites States citizens can vote, access better jobs, and contribute to our economy. Without the assistance of DACA/DAPA and NSP-funded community-based services many immigrants who dream of citizenship become the prey of unscrupulous actors with false promises and become victims of fraudulent activity.
The Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California points out that naturalized citizens will bolster our economy and create stronger communities because they are committed to staying and participating in our democracy. This deeper investment in community leads to civic, economic and social benefits for everyone. According to the Department of Homeland Security, out of the millions eligible to naturalize in 2012, less than 100,000 completed the process. The barriers of the prohibitive cost of the application and lack of information, prevented these legal permanent residents from becoming naturalized. Gov. Jerry Brown recently included in his May Revise of the annual budget to include five million dollars for DACA/DAPA but excluded NSP and does nothing to assist non-profits from helping citizens become naturalized. Restoring funding to NSP is the only way to help these legal residents and help California’s economy grow.
*Update-The Assembly and Senate Subcommittee that heard this issue, passed their budget bills and they both included $20 million for grants to non-profits to provide naturalization services. The measures will next be considered in the full Budget Committee.