A panel of immigration experts told students and area residents that fear may keep many immigrants from seeking U.S. citizenship.
NW Campus’ Center of Excellence for ESL/ESOL/GED/Citizenship hosted an information session Sept. 22 for students and the community, answering questions like “Who is eligible to apply?” and “What documents to bring to the application process?” in the workshop offered by local nonprofit organizations.
“My hope is that students and the community will feel empowered to take the leap and apply for their U.S. citizenship,” said Lourdes Davenport, NW coordinator of special projects. “Talking with experts might quell any doubts or fears they may have because of the negative media attention to this subject.”
Many people have uncertainty about the citizenship process and fears about who is eligible to apply for citizenship, deportation and families being separated, Davenport said.
“It’s hard for people to trust what is real with the laws and what isn’t,” she said.
A local permanent resident can apply for naturalization, but with all the negativity in the news, people fear their petition will be denied, said panelist, CEO and founder of Proyecto Immigrante ICS, Inc. Douglas Interiano.
“People are not prepared,” said Interiano, whose company counsels people on immigration law and the steps to become a naturalized citizen. “They fear failing the citizenship exam, but their biggest fear is the application fee. Application fees can cost as much as $725.”
Becoming a U.S. citizen comes with many benefits, Interiano said.
“Benefits include the right to vote and make your voice heard, serve on a jury or become a candidate for an elected office,” he said. “You can travel to other countries with a U.S. passport and live outside of the U.S. for unlimited periods of time.”
Audience members learned from panelists how to avoid immigration fraud and were cautioned not to sign blank documents or applications.
Applying for citizenship is not easy, and people need assistance from lawyers and immigration experts to complete forms correctly, executive director of New Hope Immigration Services Lilian Paredes said.
“Be careful with the application,” Paredes said. “If something is wrong, you can be denied.”
The amount of time it takes to apply for citizenship varies and changes with each applicant, Paredes said. Currently, the Dallas office is taking 12 to 18 months to process applications due to the high volume of applicants.
Hosting events like the Citizenship Info-Thon at TCC gives students and community members a safe place to learn about topics such as these, Davenport said.
“Events like these helps those in the community who are lower income and have limited resources,” local resident Teresa Martinez said. “This was very informative. I needed help with my application process, and this was so accessible for me to come to.”
Requirements to naturalize
• 18 years of age or older, having lived lawfully in the U.S. as a local permanent resident (green card holders)
• Having lived within the state or USCIS Dallas district for at least three months prior to date of filing
• A person of good moral character
• Filed and paid taxes
• No domestic violence convictions
• Have a limited amount of DWIs or DUIs
• Pass two tests in English: Either speak, read, or write (age and residence exemption on the English test)