Saturday, November 24, 2012

New Americans Campaign Launched to Promote Citizenship

indy Chang writes for the Los Angeles Times

Ricardo Sepida gets emotional when he sees his son-in-law in a Navy uniform. Even aircraft carriers make him misty-eyed. There is no better country than the United States, says Sepida, an immigrant from the Philippines.

Yet despite possessing a green card for 40 years, Sepida has never become an American citizen. Life got in the way, as he raised two children, worked a full-time job as a biomedical technician and ran side businesses on the weekends.

"I was so busy at work, I had so many things to do and I'd forget about it," said Sepida, 61, of Sylmar. "I regret it now. I should have done it a long time ago."

Sepida is among the millions of immigrants who are eligible for citizenship but have postponed the milestone, whether because of the $680 fee, a busy schedule or fear of the English and civics exams. In 2011, about 750,000 immigrants applied for naturalization out of the 8.5 million who were eligible.

A $20-million effort is now under way to get more permanent residents to become citizens so they can vote, have access to a wider range of jobs and become fully American. The money for the New Americans Campaign comes from major foundations and is going mainly to nonprofits that have already been doing citizenship work. Two former commissioners of the Immigration and Naturalization Service have signed on as advisors.

"We're going to just grow the number of people who aren't really completely part of the American fabric, who aren't pitching their tent, unless we get them off the sideline and into the game," said Eric Cohen, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, which is the campaign's main coordinator.

The campaign is being touted as bipartisan — Doris Meissner and James Ziglar, the two former INS leaders, served under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively. Organizers chose to launch the effort after the November presidential election to avoid any association with partisan voter registration drives, Meissner said. Read more...

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