More than 13 million lawful permanent residents (LPRs) live in the United States, 8.8 million of whom are eligible for U.S. citizenship. But fewer than 10 percent naturalize every year.
Citizenship is about so much more than immigration status or individual voting rights. It means full participation in a community and in our economy, which benefits us all.
We all prosper when new Americans become active participants in our democracy and contributors to our communities. Research shows that naturalized citizens see a boost in their family incomes that can benefit their children, communities, and the nation as a whole. Depending on how aggressively we promote naturalization, the economy stands to grow by $21 billion to $45 billion over 10 years.
We must take steps to help more people naturalize, and we have the tools to get started.
Last Thursday the New Americans Campaign submitted a letter to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) outlining our experience-based ideas for the development and implementation of a media campaign to encourage citizenship applicants.
The media campaign is a component of President Obama’s executive action on immigration, and USCIS is tasked with carrying it out this year. It is intended to provide information about U.S. citizenship and the naturalization process in the 10 states that are home to more than 75 percent of the LPR population: Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia and Washington. We work in most of these same states.
The New Americans Campaign stands ready to work with USCIS through our nationwide network of local community-based and national organizations and legal service providers using proven media strategies, from digital campaigns to ethnic media partnerships, and innovative technology such as Citizenshipworks.
It makes sense for our government to encourage eligible green card holders to naturalize. Lack of awareness of the naturalization process and eligibility requirements are two significant barriers to achieving citizenship.
The media campaign is a chance for USCIS to engage with local legal service providers, community organizations and ethnic media, which are all trusted sources in the immigrant community. By leveraging these existing, successful networks, USCIS can help more immigrants achieve their dreams of citizenship.
This campaign must be part of a comprehensive immigrant integration strategy that addresses substantial challenges to achieving higher naturalization rates. Lowering the cost of applying for citizenship and increasing funding for English language instruction and immigrant integration programs are two places to start.
We call on the Obama administration and Congress to increase their engagement in helping people become United States citizens. We need a unified, consistent effort on all levels of government to put better integration policies in place.
Helping the 8.8 million people who can become U.S. citizens right now benefits all of us and builds a stronger America.
It’s time to step up our game.
Cohen is the executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco, which leads the New Americans Campaign, a nationwide network that promotes immigrant integration through citizenship. Atkinson is the executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), which is a national partner of the New Americans Campaign. Kwoh is the founding president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, the nation’s largest legal and civil rights organization for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. AAAJ-LA is a national partner of the New Americans Campaign. Vargas is the executive director of NALEO Educational Fund, the leading national nonprofit organization that promotes the full participation of Latinos in American civic life. NALEO is a national partner of the New Americans Campaign.