An effort is underway to not only encourage many of the the more than 8 million legal permanent immigrants living in the United States who are eligible for citizenship to apply, and the effort offers to help them along the way. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.
Applying for U.S. citizenship can be complicated and costly, but also life-changing, which explains the name of a new outreach campaign launched by the nonprofit Catholic Migration Services: "Cambia tu vida," which means "change your life."
The goal is to encourage some of the city's 500,000 legal permanent residents to become naturalized citizens.
Standing outside Our Lady of Sorrows Church, a parish of 9,000 immigrants in the Corona section of Queens, elected officials and community leaders cited some of the benefits of U.S. citizenship.
"Obviously, the first and most important step is the voting aspect," said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. "People would be eligible to vote. They can register."
"Becoming citizens is a economic argument," said Rep. Grace Meng of Queens. "Studies have shown that a family's earnings will increase."
The group, however, also acknowledged many obstacles, including language barriers and economic hurdles.
"It costs over $600 to become a United States citizen, so there's real challenges," said City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras of Queens. "Do I pay my rent or do I become a citizen?"
To smooth out the road to naturalization, Catholic Migration Services has set up a hotline and plans to hold a series of what they're calling free mega workshops in April and beyond.
"It's kind of almost an assembly line where people come in, they bring their paperwork, and within a single day, all their paperwork is filled out, packaged and ready to be mailed out so that they can apply for citizenship," said Father Patrick Keating, executive director of Catholic Migration Services.
"We're saying we will help you. We want you to become citizens," said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Archdiocese of Brooklyn. "We will give all the assistance you need. We'll run the citizenship classes so you can pass the test. We'll help you fill out the forms."
In addition to reaching out to immigrants, there was also a message for lawmakers in Washington. Sen. Charles Schumer called on House Speaker John Boehner to bring the immigration reform bill up for a vote, saying that there's enough support to pass it.
"It will bring millions out of the shadows so they can become productive citizens and work and pay taxes and raise families and be able to go to good jobs and not be exploited," Schumer said.
To find out more, or to register for a mega-workshop, call the hotline at 855-622-6242.