A Different Side of the Immigration Debate: The New Americans Campaign

At the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, we are proud to be part of a national effort – the New Americans Campaign– that is paving a better road to citizenship through streamlining and modernizing access to naturalization services.  The New Americans Campaign, funded by 6 major foundation partners, has assembled a diverse coalition of legal-service providers, businesses, foundations and community leaders across the nation to transform the system of naturalization assistance.

Recently, we have seen an unprecedented focus on our country’s broken immigration system. People from across the political spectrum now recognize that our current immigration policies are sorely outdated and need to be modernized.  But there is a crucial element of the immigration story that is too often ignored – the barriers preventing millions of eligible immigrants from becoming American citizens.

Rahm Emanuel and Luis Gutierrez’s April 3rd op-ed in the New York Times, “Priced Out of Citizenship” helped shed some light on the millions of eligible legal permanent residents (LPRs) who have been left out of the immigration reform debate. They note, “There are 8.5 million legal permanent residents of the United States (also known as green-card holders) who are eligible for citizenship, but in 2011, only about 8 percent of them applied.”

Why the vast disparity? When 92% of the currently eligible population does not take the final step to achieving the full American Dream, something needs to change.

The high cost of applying for citizenship is a major impediment for many immigrants.   But onerous fees are not the only barrier. Aspiring citizens must navigate a complicated and cumbersome naturalization system with little support. That leaves them vulnerable to unscrupulous notaries and others who take advantage of them. At the same time, access to English classes is diminishing.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  We believe in the power of innovation, collaboration, and technology to completely transform the journey to citizenship.

The New Americans Campaign spearheads promising service approaches across the country, such as our new “mega-workshop” process that streamlines the resources of multiple agencies to serve hundreds of LPRs in a single day – a tenfold increase over previous models.

We partner with trusted leaders and institutions, such as working with the Los Angeles Mayor’s office to establish “Citizenship Corners” in nearly every library in the City to provide resource and referral information to LPRs.  We’ve also launched the Bethlehem Project, which helps corporate leaders offer naturalization assistance to their employees. With new technology platforms and creative applications, such as the award-winning CitizenshipWorks software (and new mobile app) or MP3 players loaded with civics questions, we simplify the mass of information and utilize familiar electronics to support providers and applicants alike.

Through these advancements, we are seeing great results.  In just over 18 months, the New Americans Campaign has helped 37,000 eligible immigrants complete their applications. More LPRs have greater access to essential services like ESL and civics classes.  Addressing the point Emanuel and Gutierrez raised, NAC and our affiliates have helped LPRs who cannot afford the high application fee apply for an estimated $4.5 million worth of fee waivers. But there is much more that needs to change to support these immigrants in their journey.

It is essential for our elected leaders and others to advocate for a better path for eligible aspiring Americans as a key element of immigration reform efforts.  When new Americans gain the rights, freedoms, and responsibilities of citizenship, it only strengthens the vibrancy of our communities and nation.

Eric Cohen is executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, which leads the New Americans Campaign, a bi-partisan national network of legal-service providers, faith-based organizations, businesses, foundations and community leaders working to modernize and streamline access to naturalization services.


Posted on April 10, 2013

Our Impact

  • The Campaign has completed over 3,700 naturalization workshops and clinics.
  • Over 250,000 citizenship applications completed since July 2011.

    Saved aspiring citizens and their families over $206million in legal and application fees.
  • Adopted scalable technology. MP3 players, Google Voice, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services are being used to enhance naturalization service delivery.
  • Expanded New American Workforce (an effort to provide naturalization assistance within corporations) which has partnered with over 100 businesses across the nation, ranging from hotels in Miami to American Apparel in Los Angeles.
  • Deployed Citizenshipworks, an online tool, across the Campaign in multiple settings and languages. A newly redesigned platform guides applicants through through their citizenship application from start to finish and connects applicants to legal help at partnering non-profits.
  • Were instrumental in inspiring the US Citizenship and Immigration Service to support the Citizenship Corners initiative.
  • Created innovative partnerships with public libraries, school districts, universities, social service agencies, and employers, all of which yield not only greater numbers of applicants but also greater awareness of the naturalization process.
  • Deployed a large-scale volunteer recruitment program through an e-learning course.

    Reached diverse communities. Local partners consistently outreach and provide culturally competent and language-appropriate services.
Learn more from our
Impact Report.

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Who We're Helping

People come to America from all over the world with dreams of achieving a better life for themselves and their families and calling this great nation home. Eight million people who live, work, and pay taxes in this country are eligible for citizenship, yet only about eight percent of them naturalize each year. Find out more about these individuals and the barriers they face.Read More