San Jose Ramping Up Efforts for Citizenship

With an election year upon us, the Bay Area, and San Jose in particular, is aiming to eliminate the barriers eligible legal permanent residents face to become U.S. citizens and enjoy exercising their rights and benefits that come with citizenship. From Gilroy to Napa there are free workshops on a monthly basis to guide people every step of the way and help demystify the citizenship process that is no longer something that takes years but can be a reality in about 6 months.

“When we become US citizens we have the key to higher education, the key to freedom,” Hoang Truong said of when his family became U.S. citizens at a Bay Area ethnic media roundtable last Friday where immigrant-serving organizations came together to discuss the urgency for eligible legal permanent residents to become new US citizens and the potential impact they can have in the upcoming federal elections.

New America Media in partnership with The New Americans Campaign, an 18 city effort across the country to increase citizenship application rates, brought together frontline immigrants rights groups and various agencies to demystify the citizenship process and inform the community of what the Bay Area and San Jose in particular are doing to drive up the numbers of new citizens in time to vote in the November elections.

In Santa Clara County, the last available numbers from 2008 found that there were 193,207 eligible legal permanent residents, yet for the San Jose field office in the fiscal year 2015 only 10,000 applications for naturalization were approved. “There’s too many people out there who can naturalize and we want to help them all,” said Theodore Ko, Staff Attorney with the Asian Law Alliance (ALA). The agency, like other partners offers free citizenship services, guiding folks through the entire process from consultation to practicing for the interview in their primary language. Truong and his family went in skeptical to ALA after being unable to afford the fees business charged when he started looking to apply. On top of that he didn’t feel confident enough about his English comprehension and feared it would lead to costly mistakes of having to resubmit applications. With ALA, Truong and his family found credible help for free.

Nationwide the majority of eligible persons apply for citizenship when they have lived in the US 6 or 7 years, yet the requirement is only 5 years. And unlike the past, where it took several years to process a citizenship application, now the time period is about 6 months explained John Kramar, District Director with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). People have to submit that application prepared for the upcoming test and interview, said Kramar, and USCIS in partnership with the city and organizations part of The New Americans Campaign is making sure information and preparation is accessible to everyone.

From the city of San Jose, Zulma Maciel, who directs the Office of Immigrant Affairs said, “Investing in helping legal permanent residents naturalize is money well spent.” As part of a 3-year immigrant integration plan seeking to integrate San Jose’s immigrant communities, promoting the naturalization process is “a win-win not only for those seeking to become citizens, but also to the city,” said Maciel.

San Jose libraries will house citizenship corners with all materials in one location and with the local USCIS office, city employees from libraries and community centers will be trained to answer and direct people to appropriate places when they ask about citizenship.

Vanessa Sandoval, with Services Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN), also the site-lead for The New Americans Campaign in Silicon Valley said, “We’ve naturalized over 200,000 people nationwide since 2011, we’ve saved the immigrant community millions of dollars in processing fee waivers.”

In Santa Clara County SIREN, with ALA, the Center for Employment and Training and the International Institute of the Bay Area provide free naturalization services across county. “Our goal is to streamline the naturalization process so that this immigration benefit is available to everyone. Yes, it’s scary, but it’s accessible,” said Sandoval. From Gilroy to Napa there are workshops on a monthly basis.

“Naturalization empowers people, said Sandoval, “they become empowered they become engaged and they now have a voice.”

Her message to the immigrant community, “Don’t be turned in, don’t close the doors and hide when there’s anti-immigrant rhetoric or fearful tactics being used against your community. It’s a time to become engaged, empowered, and take this important step and move forward and naturalize.”

Teresa Castellanos of the Santa Clara County Immigrant Relations Office and President of San Jose Unified School District Board highlighted to those present the tendency of the media to focus to the extreme, “Is focusing to that extreme going to empower people to take that step?” she asked. Recalling the 2006 marches, when millions of immigrants across the country took to the streets in protests of anti-immigrant measures and called for immigration reform Castellanos added, “The ethnic media played a concrete role in framing the idea of: be involved, be engaged and move forward. My fear is that we are going to such an extreme that maybe we disempower people instead of empowering people.” It was an important reminder of the higher standard ethnic media must hold to as gatekeepers and the trusted voice and source of information in their communities.

More info:
The recently launched is where folks more comfortable online can begin the process themselves and will be guided remotely thru the application process, with a final consultation with an expert before submitting the application.

Also check for a calendar of free public events across the country.

Upcoming Free Workshop:
Sat. Feb. 27th, 2016  9am 
Mayfair Community Center
2039 Kammerer Ave. 
San Jose, CA 95116

Services Offered: Pro-Bono Legal Consultations, Citizenship Application Assistance (Form N-400), Fee Waiver Assistance (Form I-912), Pro-Bono Attorney Revision Of Applications
Lead Organizations: Asian Law Alliance (ALA), Center Of Employment Training (CET), International Institute Of The Bay Area (IIBA), Services, Immigrants And Education Network (SIREN).

Registration Information: Citizenship Line (408) 474-0454 


Related Media:
DACA: Returning Home To Mexico After More Than 20 Years
'Tis the Season... To Kick Out ICE
Santa Clara Community Breaks Up with ICE, and Takes Over the Board of Supervisors Meeting 

About Liz Gonzalez

Liz Gonzalez is a San Jose based writer and holistic healing practitioner, she leads a weekly meditation circle at De-Bug on Tuesday nights at 7:30 pm.

This article is part of the categories: Community  / Economy  / Immigration  / Law & Justice  / Politics  / San Jose//South Bay 
This article is part of the tags: Asian Law Alliance  / CET  / Citizenship  / Ethnic Media  / San Jose Office of Immigrant Affairs  / SIREN  / Teresa Castellanos  / The New Americans Campaign 


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