City teams up with immigrant advocates to encourage citizenship
The city is partnering with a nonprofit and a union in an effort to get more immigrants to become naturalized U.S. citizens.
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The city is partnering with a nonprofit and a union in an effort to get more immigrants to become naturalized U.S.
There are at least 50,000 foreign-born Hawaii residents eligible to go through the naturalization process to become U.S. citizens, said Rebecca Soon, deputy director of the city Department of Community Services. Roughly 150,000 Hawaii residents are immigrants who have become naturalized U.S. citizens, she said.
A $45,000 grant that local nonprofit The Legal Clinic received from the national Cities for Citizenship initiative will fund four workshops in the coming year that will guide eligible immigrants in Hawaii through the
citizenship process. Cities for Citizenship is led by several national nonprofit organizations aimed at increasing the number of naturalized citizens in the United States. It gets its funding from corporate sponsorship.
Soon’s department will leverage its resources to help educate noncitizens and promote the program and provide other support services. “We’re here to support and bolster, demonstrate that Honolulu is a partner and does want to continue to
expand the great work (the other agencies) are already doing.”
The third partner is Unite Here Local 5, the hotel and restaurant workers union, which is composed largely of immigrants.
Amy Agbayani, a longtime advocate for immigrants and a member of The Legal Clinic, said gaining citizenship helps immigrants obtain better education and job opportunities.
About 60% of legal permanent residents in Hawaii are from the Philippines, with those who are Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnam and Pacific islanders also part of the mix,
are oftentimes able to
get better education,
get better jobs, get better pay and fully participate
in our community,” she said.
Paola Rodelas, a Local 5 community organizer, said there are financial and bureaucratic barriers that
discourage immigrants from applying for citizenship. It now costs $725 to apply for naturalization, “and there’s constant
talk that the Trump
administration is thinking about raising those fees
to over $1,000.”
The application itself
is daunting, Rodelas said.
It is 20 pages long “with some very confusing
questions,” she said. “And then once you submit the application, then you have to do a civics test and
an interview that can be
really, really intimidating to folks.”
That’s where the workshops come in. “We have volunteers and immigration attorneys there who help people fill out the entire application,” Rodelas said.
More than 250 people have taken part in four workshops that have been held since March 2018, including 58 potential citizens who participated in the latest gathering Saturday.
Two Local 5 members, both housekeepers at Hilton Hawaiian Village, went through the workshops and successfully gained U.S. citizenship.
For Cristina Fernandez, becoming naturalized is also about empowerment. “Now I can exercise my right to vote,” she said. “Being a citizen, you can have your voice.”
Nely Reinante said
because both of her
sons were under 18 when her husband became
naturalized, they automatically became citizens as well.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell noted that Hawaii historically has been a gateway for many immigrants in search of the American dream. Supporting programs like Cities for Citizenship are particularly critical in today’s world where the federal government is throwing up more roadblocks to immigrants seeking a better life in the U.S., he said.