November 15, 2013
By Allan Wernick, CUNY Citizenship Now Director
Two years ago, CUNY Citizenship Now began offering fee waiver assistance at our community naturalization events. USCIS allows some permanent residents applying for U.S. citizenship to have the agency waive the $680 filing fee. To qualify for a fee waiver, the applicant must prove an “inability to pay” the filing fee. You have an inability to pay if you are receiving a means-tested public benefit, your household income is below 150% of the federal poverty level or a financial hardship such as recent unemployment, high medical expenses or other unexpected large expenses make it difficult for you to pay. A “means-tested” public benefit is one you qualify for because of low or no income.
Completing fee waiver applications can be time consuming. However, Citizenship Now has long understood that for many New Yorkers, the fee was keeping them from applying to naturalize, so we added a station to our community citizenship events to help applicants seeking fee waivers. With the help of our volunteers trained to provide fee waiver assistance, we have helped almost 2,000 permanent residents with fee waiver applications over the past two years at our community events alone. That represents almost 41% of all applicants served. That’s besides the hundreds helped at our immigration centers.
Inability to pay the fee should never be a reason for a permanent resident to forego applying to become a U.S. citizen. Some applicants, and some attorneys are confused about the rules. Unlike most applicants for permanent residence, a naturalization applicant need not prove that he or she can live in the United States without receiving public assistance. The law does require that naturalization applicants obligated by law to file tax returns file those returns. But permanent residents receiving public assistance may naturalize without filing tax returns.
Fee waiver assistance is an important component of Citizenship Now's services. A component that would be difficult to carry out without the help and support of our volunteers.
To improve the quality of our services, to further empower our volunteers and to increase efficiency, CUNY Citizenship Now has greatly enhanced our training program. Over the past two years, we have offered Volunteer Corps members 19 trainings. We have alternated between training on the basics of citizenship application assistance and more advanced topics. Attendance at the 19 events reached 370, with 75% being active Corps members and most of the others, new recruits. Now, 87% of our volunteers have received training in application assistance. All your gained expertise will serve you well at the seven citizenship application events scheduled for November, CUNY month.
Dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers are the backbone of our events. By increasing and improving our trainings, we ensure that free, high-quality, low-cost citizenship application services are available to all New Yorkers.
Meanwhile, as USCIS prepares to issue a new N-400, we are hard at work preparing training materials and an updated Citizenship Guide. The federal government shutdown seems to be delaying issuance of the N-400. Count on Citizenship Now to keep you up-to-date on the new form and other developments.
I am pleased to report that NYCitizenship in Schools, the program providing free naturalization assistance to the parents of New York’s school children, has been extended for another year. NYCitizenship in Schools is a partnership of the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), Citibank and CUNY Citizenship Now working with other agencies. The CUNY/NYC Citizenship Corps is a key component of this effort. NYCitizenship in Schools provides free immigration information, assistance and financing options to eligible parents of students in the city’s public schools who are lawful permanent residents and seeking to begin the application process to become U.S. citizens.
Last year, NYCitizenship in Schools, with help from the CUNY/NYC Citizenship Corps, assisted 1,179* permanent residents apply for U.S. citizenship at ten events. I thought it would be interesting to share some information about those who we have served, for you to have a better idea of the impact you are making in our communities.
Here are some interesting facts about these 1,179 immigrants:*
With the help of our dedicated volunteers, we expect to exceed that number in the coming twelve months and continue helping parents who struggle to make ends meet. Thanks for being part of this initiative. Thanks also to our other partners: the Department of Education, the Office of Financial Empowerment, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the East River Development Alliance and the Neighborhood Trust Federal Credit Union.
- The majority of them are woman (754, 64%).
- The majority are from the Dominican Republic (209) followed by Haiti (125), Jamaica (121) and Trinidad and Tobago (103).
- Most of them live in Brooklyn (460, 39%) and Queens (352, 29.8%).
- Most participants tell us they are employed (605, 51%), while 387 (32.8%) are unemployed. One hundred and twenty seven did not answer this question. (We probably should keep an eye on participants filling all fields in the PRFs for us to have complete information the next time around).
- More than half of the participants (610) are in the 24-44 age bracket.
- We help many people in need. Six hundred and thirty four (53.7%) of our participants are receiving some form of public assistance (including Medicaid and food stamps).
*As per data available as of 9/11/2013.
With Congress in recess, both sides in the immigration reform debate are actively promoting their views throughout the nation. That’s good news for immigrants. My bet is that those seeking justice for the undocumented, including leaders of most major religious denominations, will win the debate. At their side will be business leaders from the agricultural, manufacturing and high-tech industries.
Meanwhile, some immigrants’ rights advocates are arguing that President Obama should grant deferred action status to undocumented immigrants if Congress fails to pass reform legislation this year. The program would get benefits similar to those received by DACAmented youth (individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals): the right to reside here temporarily, employment authorization, and the right to travel for humanitarian, business or educational reasons.
The idea is that Obama would offer deferred action to defined groups, including parents of DACAmented youth, family members of permanent residents and U.S. citizens, and needed workers. The Obama administration says that it has no plans to offer deferred action should reform legislation fail. The administration insists it can get a reform bill through Congress this year.
I’m hopeful that we won’t need deferred action for undocumented immigrants because immigration reform will become a reality. Still, it is good that advocates are considering alternatives to federal legislation.