President’s Budget Contains Seeds of Experiment to Engage Private Sector in Citizenship Preparation

On March 4, President Obama released his proposed budget to fund the government for the fiscal year 2015, which begins on October 1, 2014. Included in the budget are two naturalization-related requests, both of which, if approved by Congress, promise to increase the capacity of organizations nationwide—including those affiliated with the New Americans Campaign—to help eligible immigrants become citizens.

The first is a request for funding for a citizenship and integration grant program. To quote from the budget document:

“The Citizenship and Integration Grant Program is the sole Federal program that supports the civic integration of lawful immigrants through citizenship preparation programs.”

Grants are awarded to immigrant service organizations — among them many New Americans Campaign partners and local service providers — that provide citizenship preparation classes, assist immigrants with their naturalization applications, or provide training to organizations to increase their capacity to prepare immigrants for citizenship.

Since 2009, the Office of Citizenship within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has allocated more than $40 million to the citizenship grants program — and it is estimated that more than 72,000 permanent residents have benefited as a result of these grants.

In the newly released budget, the administration is asking Congress to provide the full $10 million for the program. This makes sense: support for “the civic integration of lawful immigrants through citizenship preparation” is a worthy goal for the nation as a whole, and it is not too much to ask Congress for that small commitment.

The other request contained in the budget is something entirely new. The administration is asking that $3 million of the amount USCIS collects in premium processing fees be set aside for the creation of a United States Citizenship Foundation. The amount will also support the Foundation’s initial three years of operation. In the budget document, the foundation is described as

“…a charitable and nonprofit corporation authorized to accept private donations to support the purposes of the Foundation, which include expanding instruction and training on citizenship rights and responsibilities, supporting a multi-sector approach to immigrant civic integration in the United States, and promoting the importance of United States citizenship.”

The creation of such an entity is something that citizenship advocates have requested and the theory behind the Foundation is that there are potential corporate donors willing to spend money to help immigrants become citizens. (The National Immigration Forum’s Bethlehem Project is demonstrating the willingness of corporations to partner with immigrant service providers to help their own workers become citizens.)

Should Congress grant the request—which does not involve appropriated funds from the general treasury, but only a portion of fees collected from individuals paying a premium fee for fast-tracking a decision on their applications—it will be the beginning of a very worthwhile experiment to step up the engagement of the corporate world to help America’s newcomers become new Americans.

Posted on March 18, 2014

Our Impact

  • The Campaign has completed over 3,700 naturalization workshops and clinics.
  • Over 250,000 citizenship applications completed since July 2011.

    Saved aspiring citizens and their families over $206million in legal and application fees.
  • Adopted scalable technology. MP3 players, Google Voice, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services are being used to enhance naturalization service delivery.
  • Expanded New American Workforce (an effort to provide naturalization assistance within corporations) which has partnered with over 100 businesses across the nation, ranging from hotels in Miami to American Apparel in Los Angeles.
  • Deployed Citizenshipworks, an online tool, across the Campaign in multiple settings and languages. A newly redesigned platform guides applicants through through their citizenship application from start to finish and connects applicants to legal help at partnering non-profits.
  • Were instrumental in inspiring the US Citizenship and Immigration Service to support the Citizenship Corners initiative.
  • Created innovative partnerships with public libraries, school districts, universities, social service agencies, and employers, all of which yield not only greater numbers of applicants but also greater awareness of the naturalization process.
  • Deployed a large-scale volunteer recruitment program through an e-learning course.

    Reached diverse communities. Local partners consistently outreach and provide culturally competent and language-appropriate services.
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Impact Report.

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Who We're Helping

People come to America from all over the world with dreams of achieving a better life for themselves and their families and calling this great nation home. Eight million people who live, work, and pay taxes in this country are eligible for citizenship, yet only about eight percent of them naturalize each year. Find out more about these individuals and the barriers they face.Read More