Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Press Release: Local efforts in 'Become A Citizen Now' campaign, programs underway

For Immediate Release
February 4, 2015 

Three Grassroots Organizations in East Central Illinois Come Together Under 
‘Become a Citizen Now’ Campaign
Citizenship Programs and Volunteer Trainings Underway in Champaign County

[Champaign County, IL] As part of the National Partnership for New Americans, the University YMCA (Champaign), East Central Illinois Mutual Refugee Assistance Center (ECIRMAC) (Urbana), and The Immigration Project (Bloomington) are working to promote and support citizenship through a locally coordinated launch of the ‘Become a Citizen Now!’ campaign.

The 'Become A Citizen Now' campaign is about working together in the vision of an authentic and welcoming democracy in which new Americans achieve equal opportunity and are a powerful and organized constituency. In promotion and celebration of this vision, these three local organizations will host a free, public citizenship workshop with local volunteers, immigrants and natural-born citizens together, who will donate their skills and help permanent residents through the citizenship process. Assistance includes conducting one-on-one consultations to assist people in the completion of the N400 application, in available application financing, and in getting connected to community resources. The Citizenship Workshop will take place at Urbana Free Library (in the Lewis Auditorium) on Saturday, March 21st from 9:30am to 3:30pm. To help permanent residents prepare for the workshop, the New Americans Initiative team will host a Document Preparation Session at Champaign Public Library (in the Friend's Library Conference Room, 2nd floor) on Saturday, February 28 from 10am to 2pm.

Becoming a U.S. Citizen is a very important decision in a person’s life,” says Megan Flowers, NAI program coordinator at the University YMCA. “The process of becoming naturalized can also be intimidating. We’ve joined The Immigration Project and ECIRMAC in the ‘Become A Citizen Now’ campaign to not only raise awareness about services that NAI organizations provide but to let people know that we will stick with them through their oath ceremony.”

"If a permanent resident seeks to apply for citizenship at the workshop, they get connected to The Immigration Project,” said Christine Howe, Citizenship Program Director at The Immigration Project. “While we head the NAI partnership here in Champaign-Urbana, we are also the only not-for-profit legal services agency with immigration attorneys in all 86 counties of Central and Southern Illinois.

“The Refugee Center is the voice of refugees and immigrants by providing various services including advocacy counseling and translation assistance to help each client obtain their American Dream and attain citizenship,” says Ha Ho, Co-Director of ECIRMAC. “It’s always beneficial when we can connect with our partners in support of immigrant families.”

The New Americans Initiative is a not-for-profit partnership with The State of Illinois and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which helps permanent residents in Illinois through the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, with free assistance. The New Americans Initiative has provided citizenship information to over 500,000 immigrants, prepared over 10,000 citizenship applications in 2014, and enabled these immigrants to earn more (on average 55% or $6,888 more per year) and contribute more to our economy.

“The NAI partnership brings together local energy and volunteer boots on the ground to make a tangible impact nationwide, with real numbers,” said Dagmara Avelar, Outreach and Training Coordinator for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant & Refugee Rights in Chicago.  “We a have a deep reach into immigrant communities; we understand needs while creating opportunities for them to become citizens and be active in their communities.”

According to the US census Bureau only 4.4% of Illinois residents outside the Chicago area live in Champaign County. Yet, more than three times as many foreign-born residents (13.5%), and twice as many of the naturalized citizens (8.9%) and nearly four times as many of the non-citizen residents in Illinois who live outside the Chicago area, reside in Champaign County (16.6%).

While some of these dramatic numbers can be attributed to the presence of the University of Illinois, a comparison to other college communities in Illinois reinforce the picture that Champaign County has a unique demographic profile even for a college community. In fact, despite having less than half the population of all other Illinois counties with a major state university, Champaign County has more foreign-born residents than all of those communities combined.

Outside the Chicago area, 4 out of 10 foreign-born residents are naturalized citizens (40.1%). But in Champaign County only 1 in 4 foreign born residents are naturalized citizens (26.5%). The NAI project seeks to change these facts by embarking on a grassroots outreach effort to reverse this trend, engaging networks to increase the number of immigrants that are aware of and have access to information about becoming a U.S. citizen.

Contact: Christine Howe, Citizenship Program Director, The Immigration Project
Ha Ho and Deborah Hlavana, Co-Director of ECIRMAC
Megan Flowers, Communications Director/NAI Program Coordinator


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