How UnidosUS and our allies are helping immigrants fulfill their dreams of citizenship

citizenship day 2019 | New citizens are sworn in at a 2015 ceremony in Kansas City, KS. (Photo: UnidosUS)
New citizens are sworn in at a 2015 ceremony in Kansas City, KS. (Photo: UnidosUS)

By Adriana Jaramillo, Program Specialist at UnidosUS

Nearly nine million immigrants are eligible to naturalize but the lack of access to sound legal and financial advice and affordable credit, are some of the barriers to becoming U.S. citizens. At UnidosUS we are working to alleviate these obstacles through several programs, resources, and tools.

Through our work, we support our partners in their effort to naturalize as many eligible residents as possible. UnidosUS is part of The New Americans Campaign (NAC), led by the Immigration Legal Resource Center, which aims to increase the number of Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) who apply for citizenship through network partners that provide application assistance for free or at minimal cost. From July 2018 through July 2019, UnidosUS supported six of our Affiliates—Redlands Christian Migrant Association in Immokalee, Florida; Chicanos Por La Causa in Phoenix, Arizona; Community Services of Nevada in North Las Vegas, Nevada; Coalition of Florida Farmworker Organizations in Florida City, Florida; Friendly House in Phoenix, Arizona; and Esperanza in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in completing a total of 752 naturalization applications.

Our Affiliate Friendly House shared this story about a member of the community who naturalized with their help:

“Friendly House assisted M.H. to become a U.S. Citizen. She successfully passed her test and attended her oath ceremony in February 2019. M.H. is giving back to her community by helping others and is now a volunteer at Friendly House. She also helps Friendly House by sharing her experience with other potential clients during the events. By telling her story, M.H. gives courage to other potential applicants and helps bring down barriers and fears that stem from the interview process.”

The April All in For Citizenship Rally drew thousands of supporters from around the country. (UnidosUS Archive/2013)
An All in For Citizenship Rally drew thousands of supporters from around the country. (UnidosUS Archive/2013)

Overcoming the Barrier of High Fees

One of the most cited barriers to naturalization for those who are eligible are the high fees associated with the process. Many Latino immigrants lack credit history in the United States or have thin profiles which prevent them from accessing capital to finance their immigration process. To address this barrier, UnidosUS runs a program called Fuente Credito. Fuente Credito is an online platform that serves as the nexus between supply and demand for small dollar loans. Through Fuente Credito, UnidosUS helps provide small dollars loans to serve not only as an entryway to credit, but to help with the fees of transitioning status.

Fuente Credito’s technology enables local financial institutions, who offer safe and affordable small dollar loans, to be more accessible to consumers and more competitive with alternative, predatory lenders. Fuente Credito is currently available to seven of our Affiliates located in California, Delaware, Florida, and the Washington, DC metro area. These affordable loans are provided by responsible financial institutions that have products to help clients achieve their financial goal. Additionally, Fuente Credito is embedded into immigration services from community-based organizations and therefore, encourages clients that are seeking legal help to have an option for safe small dollar loans available to them.

Our DC-area Affiliate CASA shared this story about a member of the community who able to afford the citizenship fees with the help of the program:

“CSR is a 19-year-old immigrant from El Salvador. Throughout high school, CSR dreamt of attending college to improve her chances of achieving a better life and supporting her family. Unfortunately, her family was unable to help her with college tuition and supplies. CSR would not let this stop her, working two part-time jobs in addition to her studies. She hopes that by becoming a U.S. citizen, she will have access to better jobs and college scholarship opportunities.

CSR was referred to CASA’s citizenship services by her sister, who applied for and attained U.S. citizenship through our services. During her initial citizenship eligibility screening, CASA staff noted that, due to her hard work at both of her part-time jobs, her income was too high to qualify for the USCIS fee waivers. Fortunately, Montgomery County, MD, offers financial support to residents pursuing naturalization. CSR applied and received a $300 scholarship from the County. Nevertheless, if she wants to continue being able to pay for her college studies, she could not afford the $425 still owed towards the citizenship fee. Not to be deterred, CASA staff explained the Fuente Credito loan program to CSR and she immediately applied. The loan was exactly the help she needed in making her dream of applying for American citizenship a reality. CSR is eagerly awaiting final approval for the loan before finally submitting her citizenship application.”

Ensuring that Immigrants Are Informed

UnidosUS, in its goal to alleviate the several obstacles that immigrants face when trying to naturalize, has also worked on creating several resources to make information easily accessible.

One resource that we’ve developed is Immilocal. Immilocal is a new online tool and the only combined directory of nonprofit immigration legal service providers and financial lenders, that helps users find help near them. In this directory, users can look for providers who can answer their questions about immigration, help with filling out an application, or find ways to pay the immigration application fees. UnidosUS is currently only listing—for legal service providers—organizations within its Affiliate network, a total of 52 organizations that are recognized by the Department of Justice. For additional nonprofit immigration legal service providers, visit: www.immigrationlawhelp.org.

Another vital resource is Immigo. Immigo is a mobile app developed in partnership with the Immigration Advocated Network (IAN) and with the support of Verizon. Immigo includes a document checklist and study materials among other resources. It also provides individuals and organizations working in the immigrant integration space with access to the latest information about immigration law and policies, as well as related tools and resources available in both English and Spanish.

These tools and resources are helping both clients and service providers in their goal to integrate as many new Americans as possible. Lack of access to accurate information and organizations that can help with fees make immigrants vulnerable to unscrupulous actors who charge exorbitant fees for advice, in addition to predatory loans that are impossible to pay off.

Citizenship allows immigrants the chance to participate fully in American society. UnidosUS is fully committed to helping those immigrants who are eligible to naturalize through our selection of resources on our website.

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