Citizenship-1

Helping others navigate the process of naturalization, Catholic Charities Los Angeles hosted a free Mega Citizenship Workshop at St. Didacus Church in Sylmar Sept. 27, where nearly 60 legal permanent residents made their first step toward becoming United States citizens.

It’s estimated that there are one million eligible lawful permanent residents in the Los Angeles area who can become U.S. citizens — but for many, the process may be financially intimidating. The workshop outlined ways the $680 fee may be waived because of financial hardships, poverty levels or other factors.

Legal permanent residents also can be reluctant to apply for citizenship because of the English language requirement and the civics test component, said Amanda Doupe, program coordinator for Catholic Charities. “There are conditions that would waive these requirements that many people don’t know,” she said. Length of time in the United States and age play a factor in getting those requirements waived.

There are good reasons to become a citizen, Doupe said, including voting rights, access to government jobs and, perhaps most of all, family reunification and fewer travel restrictions.

“As citizens, they can petition for family members who are not living in the United States, and that means families can stay together,” she said. Traveling aboard is easier as a citizen since there is no concern for losing status (or a green card) if you stay out of the country for six months to a year.

At St. Didacus, most workshop participants were older. Many came alone or with grown children, and a few brought along their grandchildren. The online pre-registration system helped manage the patient crowds who waited in and outside of a large parish room.

Moving from station to station, workshop applicants discussed their status with attorneys and representatives for the Board of Immigration Appeals. They had their photos taken, questions answered, and in the end, left with a completed package they could submit for citizenship; the entire process took about an hour per person.

“We do four to six of these workshops outside of our downtown offices every year,” said Doupe. Similar workshops are held at Catholic Charities’ downtown office twice a month. The next group application workshop is planned for Migration Week in January 2015 with a location to be determined.

The San Fernando Valley has a need great for these citizenship workshops, said Doupe. “It’s an area very underserved with non-profits that can assist people with this process.”

This year, Catholic Charities partnered with other non-profits to encourage residents to file for permanent citizenship. Participating supporters included the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), International Rescue Committee, Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles and State Senator Alex Padilla.

“Our biggest partner was St. Didacus Church who helped promote the event,” Doupe said, noting that a church location made a positive impact. “It really does help to hold [these workshops] in churches,” she said. “It immediately puts folks at ease.”

These naturalization workshops also build on a public service awareness campaign “Cambia Tu Vida” (Change Your Life) that kicked off last year by CCLA, NALEO and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC). The campaign, supported by and featuring Archbishop José Gomez, asks permanent residents to change their lives and to accept the rights and responsibilities in this country. The Cambia hotline (855-6CAMBIA) lists all upcoming naturalizations classes and fair in Los Angeles County.

To find out about Catholic Charities’ next group citizenship application workshop, or to learn how to be a volunteer immigration counselor, call (213) 251-3411.