On the first day that the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles began offering free services to help legal permanent residents become citizens, more than 134 people were asking for the assistance. That's up from the usual daily of about five people.
CHIRLA has waived the nominal fees for naturalization assistance in response to President Donald Trump's signed executive orders on immigration and those that are yet to come.
CHIRLA usually charges legal permanent residents $150 for the application assistance and $40 for legal counseling. But for the next 100 days starting this past Wednesday, CHIRLA is providing that for free. On the first day the requests were so many, CHIRLA had to call in a volunteer to help field the requests.
"Given the news that lawful permanent residents may be on the chopping block in Mr. Trump's immigration plans for the near future, we felt the strongest shield of protection that immigrants can have at the moment is citizenship," said Jose-Mario Cabrera, CHIRLA's spokesman.
Cabrera said CHIRLA has only begun to get out word about its free services, but soon will do more social media, public service announcements and other work. It is using people from various cultures in its promotions to ensure it reaches immigrants in various communities, he said.
Trump signed executive orders ramping up immigration enforcement in the interior U.S. that restart suspended programs allowing local law enforcement officers to act as immigration agents and that require local officials to submit fingerprints of people they detain or arrest to check their citizen or immigrant status. When the administration put in effect its ban on entry of refugees from seven Muslim countries, some legal permanent residents were affected.
CHIRLA will be working with its applicants to help them take advantage of new fee waivers or new reduced fees for lower income applicants.
New fees for immigration benefits such as citizenship went into effect in December. The citizenship application fee is now $640 and the fee for electronic fingerprints (biometrics) is $85. There also is an additional fee of $1,170 to get a certificate of citizenship after successfully completing the application, testing and screening process.
"While Mr. Trump uses his first 100 days to create chaos and confusion and pain in the land, we are going to open up open up our offices and offer free citizenship services to whoever wants to come in the next 100 days," Cabrera said.
Nationally, some 8.2 million people who are legal permanent residents qualify to apply for citizenship.
A federal government summary of preliminary monthly naturalization statistics for January 2016 showed the office received 61,976 citizenship applications and 56,469 were sworn in as citizens. More updated information was not available without filing a Freedom of Information Act request, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services said.
Along with the naturalization work, the group is continuing its civic classes to help new citizens and those applying to become involved politically and to vote.
Cabrera said the group used money it had received to work helping immigrants without legal status and with U.S. citizen or legal resident children apply for the deportation deferral and work permit program, known as DAPA, authorized by former President Barack Obama. That program, however, has been tied up in court since several Republican-led states sued to keep it from going into effect.