Melissa Rodgers, Director of the New Americans Campaign and Director of Programs at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, welcomed 300 attendees to the 6th Annual New Americans Campaign (NAC) National Naturalization Practitioners Conference being held at Miami Dade College, February 8-10, 2018.
It’s great to see all of you. I’ve been traveling a ton lately, visiting many of you. When you travel you spend a fair amount of time in taxis, or Lyfts, or different transportation services. So I’ve been having many conversations with immigrants who’ve been sharing their stories with me, and in some cases their journey to citizenship. This has me thinking a lot about history. I was reminded of President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 reference to the “proudest boast” of some 2000 years ago, “civis Romanus sum,” which means, “I am a Roman citizen.” It was not only a statement of pride, but also an assertion of protection and a guarantee of safety. And it strikes me that today, in the face of daily attacks on immigrants, the proudest boast might be, “I am a new American.”
I am so proud of the work we do together. I love coming to the NAC Conference and I love my job—because of you. I think you are the most dedicated group of people I know! So thank you. Really thank you!
We have our work cut out for us. We are seeing backlogs in naturalization processing that have doubled or tripled so that it is now taking about a year on average. We were looking at statistics from Miami. In Miami it is taking 16 months from the time people apply to when they take the oath and become citizens. What this means is that anyone who is motivated to apply for citizenship in order to vote in 2018 has already missed the window. And it means that anybody who hopes to vote in 2020 needs to be applying now.
The theme of our conference is mobilizing lawful permanent residents. We want to motivate them and then we want to bring together our collective resources to help them achieve U.S. citizenship. Honestly, if anyone can do it—this room can! [Applause]
I’m looking out at you—there are 300 people here—and I was thinking back to the first NAC conference in Los Angeles in 2013. Where there were maybe 100 of us in the room.
We were working in eight sites at the time, and now look at us! We have 20 NAC sites. We’re in additional locations all over the country and we’re growing! We’ve gotten so big that on one of my recent trips, I was visiting a site and somebody came up to me, a NAC partner, and said, “I think I’ve seen you. I think I saw you at the NAC conference, but I’m not sure who you are?” [Laughter] So, just for the record, for those of you who don’t know who I am, my name is Melissa Rodgers. I work at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. We’re the lead agency for the New Americans Campaign and I have the great honor of being the National Director for the Campaign and working with all of you!
I am so proud to have our sixth NAC Conference here in Miami. I want to start by thanking our Miami site leader, Catholic Legal Services of the Archdiocese of Miami, in particular. Randy McGrorty, its Executive Director, and also Jesús Torres Núñez, and Ana Quiros. [Applause] I also want to thank the entire Miami New Americans Campaign. Anyone from Miami please stand up, so we can thank you!
When I started this job, Miami was my very first site visit and I’m really delighted to be here. And all of the folks from the freezing Northeast and the Midwest are really delighted to be here as well … as are those from the rest of the country. So enjoy Miami! We’re going to have a great time together. I’ve been enjoying the coffee, as my colleagues know. I actually have a cousin who lives in Miami who wrote an entire book and photo essay about the coffee ventanitas, the little walk-up window where you can get coffee. There are hundreds of them. I encourage you to check them out. Some of them are open 24-hours-a-day. We have a beautiful space for our conference. It’s been donated to us by Miami Dade College. We thank Miami Dade College very much.
And I also want to thank my colleague Ana Montes. She’s here in back. Ana thank you! [Applause] She’s been handling many of the logistics that made this day possible. So we couldn’t do this without her. And, of course I also want to thank—where is she—the conference Creator-in-Chief Sarah Letson! Stand up, Sarah. [Applause] Thank you! Nobody wonders who Sarah is. [Laughter]
And finally, I want to thank our foundation partners. We have foundations that have been with us from the inception of this Campaign, who have invested in us, who have trusted in us, and without whom none of this work would be possible. Two of them are actually based in Miami, but many of them are based in other parts of the country and have made the journey to be with us today. The chair of the NAC funders committee is Geri Mannion who heads up the Democracy Program at Carnegie Corporation of New York and is here with us to welcome you. Thank you!