New Americans celebrated Citizenship Day by urging eligible immigrants to complete the process of joining their ranks.The national holiday, recognizing Americans and those who seek to become one, comes this year against a backdrop of a Trump administration that is openly hostile to our immigrant communities.
“Citizenship is not just a matter of pride for me. It’s a matter of security,” said Eduviges Morales, a naturalized American and graduate of citizenship classes held at Michigan United, a partner organization in the Detroit New Americans Campaign. “Now that I’m a full-fledged American, not only am I permanently safe from deportation, I can take steps to protect my community.”
As a citizen, Morales can petition for family members to become citizens. Along with being able to vote and sit on a jury, she can also run for office and is eligible for many federal jobs that require citizenship.
While more people are trying to become Americans, the current administration has made policy changes intended to discourage people from applying or slowing down the process for those who do apply. After several years where the processing time for the Detroit Field Office was 5 months from the date of filing to the date the interview, with the oath ceremony – if the applicant was successful – coming days to weeks later, delays and inconsistency have arrived. Under the current administration, processing times have varied from 4 – 14.5 months to 8 – 16.5 months to as much as 18.5 months.
The Trump Administration has engaged in policy meant to intimidate immigrants, such as Operation Second Look, where the administration intends to investigate already naturalized citizens. To do this, the administration will withdraw over $200 million from the Immigration Examinations Fee Account. This is money that immigrants have paid, as well as their US-born families, to cover the cost of processing their applications. In addition to deterring immigrants from applying for naturalization, it will also slow down processing of Green Card and citizenship applications. This is a feature of this administration, as they’ve moved some $9.8 million from FEMA for hurricane relief to ICE for family detention.
According to Wojciech Zolnowski, executive director of the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, the oldest nonprofit and the leading partner in the Detroit New Americans Campaign, “There are plenty of nonprofit organizations in Michigan that offer legal services to help residents confirm their eligibility and to prepare their applications,”
Such as Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development (LASED) where Mary Carmen Munoz is the operations manager. She said “Part of the American Dream is to obtain citizenship. That piece of paper is so important to be part of this great country of ours and part of the diversity that creates the wonderful America that we know today.” LASED has offered programs to help Detroit residents pass the citizenship test since 1965.
Recently, the Trump administration has proposed denying residence to applicants who have any received public benefits for which they were eligible before applying. “Public charge is an archaic concept, that if expanded and implemented will not only hurt immigrants, but will be devastating to this country,” said Rima Meroueh, Manager of Advocacy and Community Engagement at ACCESS, “It will have a negative impact on the economy, education, and will be extremely detrimental to the health of millions of Americans.”
Rev. Jack Eggleston, a pastor with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and a board member of Michigan United, encouraged new residents to find English language and citizenship classes to start the process of becoming a citizen. He also urged those who have been residents for years to complete it. “What are you waiting for? Apply now!”