In celebration of Citizenship Day on Thursday, the White House launched a new citizenship awareness campaign that aims to encourage the nearly 9 million eligible lawful permanent residents to take the next step and become U.S. citizens.
“If you’re eligible, commit to becoming a citizen today,” the president said. “It’s an important step for you and an important step for our nation. Join us. Together we can make America stand even stronger.”
The campaign was created by the White House Task Force on New Americans, an initiative Obama established through the immigration executive actions he took in November 2014.
To kick off the campaign, local governments, the business community and non-profit groups will host more than 70 citizenship outreach events in the first week. The federal government will also host 200 naturalization ceremonies in which more than 360,000 people will become U.S. citizens.
Felicia Escobar, special assistant to the president for immigration policy, told NBC News the campaign is meant to “encourage those who are eligible to learn more about the naturalization process and to hopefully, if they make the decision, to take the next step in their American journeys and commit to citizenship by naturalizing.”
To help with the campaign, the president named four Americans as ambassadors who will help encourage others to become U.S. citizens. The ambassadors are restaurateur Jose Andrés, actress Diane Guerrero, singer and songwriter Dave Matthews, and former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela. They’re all new Americans and children of immigrants.
Across the country, there are about 8.8 million legal permanent residents who meet the eligibility requirements to apply for U.S. citizenship. Of those, more than 4 million are Latino and 1.4 million are of Asian or Pacific Islander descent.
Despite the many benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen, many eligible legal permanent residents put off applying for citizenship because they face a number of barriers. Some aren’t able to afford the $680 application fee, while others don’t know how to apply and some face language barriers.
Escobar said one of the goals of the “Stand Strong” campaign is to break down those barriers. For instance, the Department of Justice is expanding the availability of low-cost legal service providers that can help lawful permanent residents apply to become U.S. citizens.
In an effort to help alleviate the $680 citizenship application fee, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is now allowing people to pay the citizenship application fee using credit cards. That way, applicants able to space out payments over time.
As part of the campaign, USCIS is also expanding the reach of its print, digital and radio public service announcements regarding the naturalization process to six additional states—New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, Virginia, Washington and Arizona. The public service announcements are already in place in four states—California, New York, Texas and Florida.
Together, these 10 states are home to 75 percent of all legal permanent residents, according to the White House.
USCIS will also begin offering the public awareness materials in Korean and Tagalog. The materials are currently offered in Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese.
“This is another example of our effort to really reach people in the language that they feel comfortable with so that they can learn more about the process,” Escobar said about the translated materials.
Kiran Ahuja, executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said the public service announcements will help “get the word out” to the AAPI community about how to apply to become U.S. citizens. She said many AAPIs don’t know how to start the citizenship application process. This is especially true for refugees, many of whom are Asians.
According to the White House, more than 3 million refugees are eligible for U.S. citizenship. Nearly one out of every three of them became legal permanent residents in 1990 or earlier, but they haven’t taken the next step to become U.S. citizens.
Ahuja said many refugees haven’t applied for citizenship because they’ve been more focused on settling in the United States, finding jobs and making sure their children receive an education. As a result, she said, applying for citizenship hasn’t been a top priority for many refugees.
But Ahuja said she hopes the campaign will help educate refugees, as well as the AAPI community as a whole, about the citizenship application process. She also said she expects the AAPI community will be “very thrilled about the announcement from the White House about the citizenship campaign.”
“This is an issue that is near and dear to the AAPI community,” she said.