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National Citizenship Day: Latino Organizations Tout Benefits, Offer Help

'I Want to Be Part Of It' - Getting Ready for Citizenship 1:32

For years, Gabriela Sanchez-Badalamenti had put off applying to become a U.S. citizen. But she said it was her involvement with the immigrant community over the last few years that convinced her to finally apply.

The 37-year-old became involved when she started working as a paralegal for an immigration attorney in Arizona. She’s done everything from helping people get released from immigration detention centers on bond to stopping deportations. She said being involved and helping immigrants was a “turning point for me.”

“I realized this is something big—it’s important,” she said, referring to the immigration movement. “I want to help. I want to be part of it, and the best way to do it is to become a citizen.”

Sanchez-Badalamenti, originally from Costa Rica, is now in the process of finalizing her citizenship application. She convinced her husband, who came to the U.S. from Venezuela as a lawful permanent resident in 1974, to also apply. They plan to submit their applications together in the next two weeks.

Nationwide, there are 8.8 million lawful permanent residents who are eligible to become U.S. citizens but haven’t applied. Of those, nearly half—more than 4 million—are Latino.

Despite the many benefits that come with being a U.S. citizen, many eligible Latinos, like Sanchez-Badalamenti and her husband, put off becoming U.S. citizens for a number of reasons.

For some, the language barriers or lack of funds to pay the $680 application fee causes them to put their plans to become U.S. citizens on hold. Others don’t know how to start the process.

But Latino organizations, like the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, are stepping up to help. They are hosting events across the country on Thursday in celebration of Citizenship Day to help Latinos with the citizenship application process.

Nationwide, there are 8.8 million lawful permanent residents who are eligible to become U.S. citizens but haven’t applied. Of those, nearly half—more than 4 million—are Latino.

Among the numerous events NALEO is hosting on Thursday is an advocacy day on Capitol Hill to encourage members of Congress to support policies that make it easier for eligible lawful permanent residents to become U.S. citizens. Those policies include increasing access to English language and civics programs.

“We need to break down the barriers that are keeping millions of hard-working and talented legal permanent residents from contributing fully to our nation’s economy and society,” stated Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO.

In a press release, NALEO noted that naturalization confers economic benefits to not only those who become U.S. citizens, but also the country. It cited a report that found citizenship can boost individual earnings by 8 to 11 percent and potentially grow the U.S. economy by $21-45 billion over the next 10 years.

Other Latino organizations are hosting events in the next few days and over the weekend to help Latinos with the citizenship application process. In Los Angeles, California, the Latino group CARECEN and the labor organization SEIU International Latino Caucus are dispatching trained individuals who speak Spanish to help families process applications.

Starting on Saturday, CASA—which is a Latino and immigrant advocacy organization based in Maryland—will begin offering citizenship application assistance and citizenship classes, among other services, at their new CASA Center for Citizenship. A grand opening ceremony for the center will be held Thursday.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the country—including Arizona, California and Colorado—Mi Familia Vota will be hosting citizenship fairs on Saturday to help Latinos apply to become U.S. citizens. The group will also be helping Latinos apply for a fee waiver that covers the $680 application fee.

Citizenship can boost individual earnings by 8 to 11 percent and potentially grow the U.S. economy by $21-45 billion over the next 10 years.

“Most people don’t know about the fee waiver,” said Belen Sisa, citizenship coordinator for the Arizona chapter of Mi Familia Vota. Her group is expecting more than 200 people to attend its citizenship fair that'll be held in Phoenix on Saturday.

Sisa said the main purpose of the event is to “help people become citizens so that they can vote and be civically engaged.”

The 21-year-old, originally from Argentina, can’t vote because she is a DREAMer and doesn’t have legal status. But she is authorized to stay and work in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Sisa said she uses her story to inspire others to become U.S. citizens and vote.

“While I might not be able to vote, I can influence 10 other people to do so,” she said.

Sisa’s story is actually one of many that motivated Sanchez-Badalamenti to begin the process to become a U.S. citizen. The two met when Sisa worked at the same immigration law firm where Sanchez-Badalamenti currently works.

“Her story made me realize we can’t take anything for granted,” Sanchez-Badalamenti said. “We are a community that needs to work together to accomplish our dreams. I want to show people the difference we can make by becoming U.S. citizens, especially in the upcoming elections.”

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