Dec 15, 2022
The New Americans Campaign: A Successful Collaborative Model Supporting Citizenship
Dec 15, 2022
By Lucia Martel-Dow
Over 9.2 million lawful permanent residents ("LPR") are eligible to apply for citizenship in the United States. Yet, less than one million people apply each year. Barriers within our immigration system have made it difficult for many people, especially low-income immigrants, to achieve their dreams of citizenship. In Marin County, about 9,500 residents are eligible for naturalization and can benefit from citizenship's many advantages, like voting and being protected from deportation.1
But one can't just apply for citizenship. Most people go through immigration journeys that can span decades to obtain their "green cards" (lawful permanent residency), and the process often involves luck, hardship, and perseverance. Once they receive that status, they must meet the years of required residency (three or five years, depending on certain factors), pass an English and Civics test, and show good moral character.2 The median period spent as an LPR for all naturalized citizens is over seven years, but many wait longer.3 The application cost is prohibitive for low-income people, and the lack of information and affordable legal assistance makes the process confusing and burdensome.
For over 11 years, the New Americans Campaign ("NAC"), led by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, has transformed how aspiring citizens navigate the path to becoming new Americans. We have 200 partners and count on the support of a core group of funders committed to naturalization.
The NAC aims to connect LPRs to trusted legal assistance and critical information that simplify the naturalization process and, to date, our partners have helped over 560,000 aspiring Americans complete the application for naturalization. With an annual budget of about $6 million, we remove barriers to citizenship through investment in immigrant-serving organizations, offer technical assistance and best practices, and lead bold policy and advocacy efforts. The NAC is also investing in civic engagement, educating newly naturalized citizens about voting and their new rights.
Immigrants who have long been contributing to our country's strength should be able to access the opportunities that citizenship provides for all Americans. The Biden administration has worked to reduce barriers to naturalization,4 but work remains to undo the damage left by the Trump administration and deal with historic application backlogs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Increasing naturalization for LPRs comprises a long-term vision of integrating immigrants into the fabric of our society, and into communities like Marin. When we help aspiring Americans become citizens, we uphold the tenets of our democracy: Civic engagement, vibrant communities, and building a stronger future for our nation. Citizenship also provides LPRs additional opportunities, including the right to vote, easier travel outside the U.S., and an average income increase of eight to eleven percent.5
If you or someone you know has a citizenship question, eligibility can be determined via an online tool created by one of our partners, Citizenshipworks (www.citizenshipworks.org). Visit our website (www.newamericanscampaign.org) to find information on how to apply, access legal assistance and find out if someone qualifies for a fee waiver. Now is the time to promote this path to citizenship so rooted in our history and democracy.
1 See Center for Migration Studies, Estimates of Undocumented and Eligible-to-Naturalize Populations by Sub-State Area.
2 For a complete list of requirements, please visit https://www.newamericanscampaign.org/requirements/.
3 Naturalization statistics from the Unites States Citizenship and Naturalization Services (USCIS).
4 See USCIS Interagency Strategy for Promoting Naturalization.
5 Pastor, Manuel and Scoggins, Justin, December 2012, Citizen Gain: The Economic Benefits of Naturalization for Immigrants and the Economy.
Lucia Martel-Dow joined the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in 2021 as Director of the New Americans Campaign. Before joining the ILRC, Lucia worked as Director of Immigration and Social Services at Canal Alliance. Born and raised in Venezuela, she has lived in the Bay Area since 2007. She is a member of the California bar and has a Master of Laws from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, and a Master’s in International Law and Relations from the University Complutense of Madrid. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415.321.8576.