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Team of community organizations work together to help San Diegans apply for citizenship

December 9, 2019

San Diego Citizens Collaborative (SDCC) is a coalition of nonprofit organizations and businesses that provides free naturalization services in San Diego and Imperial Counties. Members include Legal Aid Society of San Diego, Jewish Family Services, Catholic Charities, International Rescue Committee, UURISE and Employee Rights Center, who serves as the coalition coordinator.

Workshop PresentationThe coalition carries the largest capacity to serve immigrants and refugees in the area and offers professional legal services to Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) at no cost. Staff and volunteers work together to host workshops around San Diego County, including evaluations that help people apply for US citizenship.

The San Diego Workforce Partnership met with the SDCC leadership team to learn more about these important services being offered to our community.

Tell us more about the people you work with.

There are at least 150,000 LPRs in San Diego any given year. Some calculations raise this number up to 180,000. Most of the people we serve are between the ages of 24-55 and have been LPRs for an average of 10 years.

What’s the definition of a ‘Legal Permanent Resident’ and what are the criteria for an individual to become eligible to apply for citizenship?

The main requirements needed to become a citizen of the United States or become naturalized are as follows:

  • Must be an LPR for at least 5 years
  • Must be 18 or older at the time of filing
  • Must be able to read, write and speak English and have knowledge plus understanding of U.S. history and government (civics)
  • Be a good person of good moral character
  • Have continuous residence and physical presence in the United States in those 5 years

What are the benefits when an individual becomes a citizen?Finished Application Picture

There are many benefits for a person to become a citizen, but let’s start with what it means for wages and income—individuals who become naturalized citizens earn 8-11% more than their non-naturalized peers.

In fact, the earning potential for women is greater than it is for men, and we know that when women earn more, the impact is felt across the entire family’s health and well-being. Moreover, legal immigrants who naturalize also experience an increase of 15 percent in
 spending power, contributing more to local businesses.

Simply put, the benefits of naturalization is two-way—to the individual and to the community in which naturalized citizens live.

What does the citizenship process look like?

The citizenship process can take between 4-8 months in San Diego County. It takes time for an individual to pull together necessary paperwork, particularly when they are working and raising a family. Plus, the cost of applying for citizenship is a barrier for many low-wage workers. The current filing fee is $680. For context purposes, in 1997, the fee to naturalize was $95.

The current administration has proposed to increase the fee an additional 83%! What we have learned from research conducted by Manual Pastor at the University of Southern California is that the fee DOES matter. The more it costs, the longer it takes for individuals to save enough to apply and can certainly discourage many others to apply in the first place.

What more can folks do to help?

Several things! One thing we’d greatly appreciate is an invitation for SDCC to do an informational presentation for your organization or business. Of course, we’d also love you to make a donation through the Employee Rights Center to help us continue to serve our San Diego community. For example, a $500 donation covers one free legal workshop with childcare and food included.

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