Expanding outreach to new communities (Charlotte)
In small rural towns outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, thousands of Hmong refugees and their families are building homes and communities. They settled here decades ago when they came to start a new life, fleeing persecution after the Vietnam War. Many of these families see America as their home, and several of the elders fought alongside U.S. troops. As the fourth-largest Hmong community nationwide, the majority of these individuals are eligible for citizenship, but unfortunately, the community lacked the support and resources they needed to navigate the complex, costly naturalization process.
In response, the Southeast Asian Coalition, a partner of The New Americans Campaign, has led efforts to better serve this community. In the small community of Morganton, two and a half hours outside of Charlotte, residents had no access to immigration attorneys who could assist them with the citizenship process. Working closely with other local Campaign partners, the Coalition found new ways to hold the community’s first-ever citizenship workshop by recruiting and training volunteers who could reach this remote community and provide needed services in the community’s own languages.
By reaching out in the University of North Carolina – Charlotte, the Southeast Asian Coalition found many students through the Hmong Association on campus who not only wanted to give back to their community, but also grew up in the area. After training the students in Charlotte, the Coalition was able to staff a naturalization workshop with these volunteers a few weeks later when they were home in Morganton for their summer vacation. Coordinating the workshop with Hmong students familiar with the community helped foster trust within the community and simplify the planning and outreach process. Several volunteers even brought their own parents and grandparents, recognizing the importance of achieving citizenship in the country they already call their own.
Cat Bao Le, Executive Director of the Southeast Asian Coalition, is proud of what they were able to accomplish together. She affirms that she couldn’t have done it without her fellow New Americans Campaign partners. “It was a real risk because coordinated citizenship support in the Southeast Asian community around Charlotte hadn’t been done before, but with [Campaign partners] Latin American Coalition (LAC) and Catholic Social Services (CSS), we were able to brainstorm together, create outreach strategies and leverage our different strengths,” Le said. “Through LAC we have a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) accredited advocate at the workshops and CSS provides essential legal review, so our collective infrastructure has been such a great collaboration.”
Transforming LA’s public libraries with resources to assist aspiring citizens (Los Angeles)
As the second largest city in the country, Los Angeles is home to immigrants from more than 140 countries, speaking 224 languages. To help these vital immigrant populations begin the journey to citizenship, an innovative program was launched at local libraries throughout Los Angeles to provide those who are eligible, known as Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs), with information and resources. Two of the Campaign’s national partners, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, worked with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas, coordinating an effort to equip the city’s 73 public libraries to engage in citizenship support. The program includes:
- Designating resource areas as “Citizenship Corners” in every library, equipped with materials to highlight the importance of citizenship and to provide essential information about the process
- Training over 90 library staff about the citizenship process and how to provide information to interested aspiring citizens
- Hosting citizenship workshops and English literacy classes
- Developing a comprehensive resource directory of citizenship services
This work was made possible through APALC and NALEO Educational Fund’s position with the California Community Foundation Taskforce, where they work with other New American Campaign partners to create new collaborations and push forward new ideas for naturalization services in Los Angeles. The New Americans Campaign is continuing to build partnerships with libraries and other trusted local institutions to help welcome and support eligible residents and their families to achieve their dream of becoming Americans.
Read more here.
A mother’s wish for her son (New York)
“What about my son?” Belma thought when she learned that she had breast cancer. After emigrating from the Dominican Republic eight years ago and making ends meet as a cashier, she was proud of the way she had raised her firstborn boy, Yeirem. She came to America believing she would find the opportunity to work her way up and to give her son a chance for a better life.
Although she met all the eligibility requirements for applying for citizenship, she didn’t think much about becoming a citizen. “When you have bills to pay, spending hundreds of dollars to become a citizen seems like a luxury for another dream,” Belma said. “And I already felt like an American, so I thought, why go through the hassle?”
As she sat in the hospital, Belma realized that Yeirem’s future needed and deserved the fullness and security that American citizenship offers. She worried that if anything were to happen to her and 12-year-old Yeirem had to go to the Dominican Republic to be with her family, he would not be able to return to the US, the only country he has known as his home. Worse, he could be separated from his younger brother, who was born here and is a citizen.
Through the outreach efforts of local New Americans Campaign partners, Belma soon learned about a citizenship workshop being held by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund. Unfortunately, she was too weak to attend the workshop because of chemotherapy, but she asked her niece to go and collect information for her. After hearing Belma’s story, the NALEO Educational Fund staff offered to assist her move forward on her journey to becoming an American citizen.
The day after her chemotherapy treatment, Belma began working with NALEO Educational Fund to start her application process. “She is such an amazing, strong person,” said Program Manager Ana Almanzar. “She was feeling a little dizzy, but she wanted to get started right away because it was so important to her.” Though she was intimidated by the process, Belma was determined to see it through, saying to Ana, “I do not want to die before my son becomes an American.”
Belma passionately threw herself into her English classes and eagerly studied the fundamentals of American history for the civics exam. The NALEO Educational Fund team worked closely with her to gather all the documents she needed for her application and kept in frequent contact. Ana is grateful for the time she was able to devote to Belma because of NALEO Educational Fund’s involvement in the New Americans Campaign. “Organizing workshops with other providers allows us to spread the word to other neighborhoods, like Belma’s, and having our partners to help delegate our many cases gives me the flexibility to work on higher-need cases like hers.”
Finally, in March of 2011, Belma recovered enough from chemotherapy to appear for her citizenship interview and test. “When the naturalization officer told me I passed, I was just so happy and proud!” she reflects.
Now Belma is looking forward to submitting her son’s application for citizenship. “I can’t wait until I can stand next to him at our ceremony, waving the flag together and knowing that he can proudly say that he’s an American citizen.”