Becoming U.S. citizens is a dream for many immigrants in the United States. It is a pivotal moment where individuals not only secure the same rights and responsibilities as U.S.-born citizens but contribute to the vibrancy and strength of the nation.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) estimates 9.5 million lawful permanent residents (LPRs), also known as “green card” holders, are eligible to naturalize. While the road to becoming a U.S. citizen can be filled with challenges and complexities, the New Americans Campaign (NAC) stands at the forefront of this transformative journey. By bringing together community organizations and social services providers, the New Americans Campaign is creating a community of collaboration that not only makes this dream more achievable but also enriches the fabric of American society.
The New Americans Campaign is a diverse nonpartisan national network of respected immigration organizations, legal services providers, faith-based organizations, immigrant rights groups, foundations, and community leaders. Since its founding in 2010, this collaborative effort has connected more than 606,000 eligible lawful permanent residents with trusted legal support and critical information that simplifies the naturalization process. Despite more than 9 million LPRs being eligible for U.S. citizenship, only 10 percent complete the naturalization process annually. The Campaign aims to increase the number of eligible LPRs that apply for citizenship through a network of local partners in more than 20 metropolitan areas that provide application assistance for free or at minimal cost.
UnidosUS joined over 200 organizations from across the country at the NAC National Naturalization Practitioners’ Conference on October 11-14, 2023 in Houston, Texas. The NAC Conference is the only national conference dedicated exclusively to exploring best practices for promoting U.S. citizenship, preparing applicants for the naturalization application process, and encouraging civic engagement. The convening’s theme was “Rising Together: Mobilizing 9 Million on the Path to Citizenship.” Through panels, presentations, discussions, and on-site training, attendees learned from experts and leaders in the field of naturalization and connected with a community of providers. The conference ended with a naturalization workshop in a local community center, where attendees volunteered to support hundreds of aspiring U.S. citizens with the naturalization application process, free of charge.
“Our annual conference brings together New Americans Campaign (NAC) partner organizations from around the country to discuss and share expertise on supporting people eligible to apply for naturalization,” stated the New Americans Campaign Director Lucia Martel-Dow. “Eligible immigrants often don’t know how to take that final step since our immigration system is a myriad of confusing forms and policies. Thus, building a network of trusted naturalization providers is crucial to meet the demand for services.”
“The NAC Conference is always well organized, and the culture of the conference is very inviting. It is nice to hear from other people as to what they do and how they work in their community for the people wanting to naturalize,” shared Jacqueline Gonzalez-Vega, Program Manager (Immigration) and Department of Justice (DOJ) Accredited Representative at Redlands Christian Migrant Association, an UnidosUS Affiliate and NAC local partner in Florida. “I really enjoyed the session on collaborating with community partners for outreach and services. I did not know we could add pro bono opportunities to our state, county and local bar associations… I also did not know we could join AILA as a nonprofit and that they have a pro bono liaison.”
UnidosUS is proud a national partner of the New Americans Campaign. “NAC partners are not only trusted community-based organizations whose assistance and expertise are sought out by permanent residents, but many of them have also developed strong partnerships with local and state elected officials and offices,” said Laura Vazquez, UnidosUS Director of Immigrant Integration. “NAC partners have worked with city and state officials to promote citizenship services. State and local governments have an opportunity to move the needle on naturalization by funding immigration legal providers. Actions taken right now will yield a lifelong benefit for the person naturalizing and at the same time of tremendous economic and civic benefits for the state and locality.”
The work of the New Americans Campaign stands not only a
s a gathering of minds and experts but as a testament to the unwavering commitment to empowering and supporting those on the path to citizenship. The shared vision and dedication to this movement demonstrate that, through collaborative efforts and a united community, the path to U.S. citizenship is made more attainable.