Cronkite News Service
Cronkite News Service
Local and national organizations on Thursday launched an effort urging tens of thousands of people in Arizona to apply for citizenship before application fees go up.
The federal government has proposed raising the application fee from $400 to $675 as of June 1. In March, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., sponsored the Citizenship Promotion Act, which seeks to reconsider the increase.
Organizations involved in the drive say 200,000 people in Arizona are eligible for citizenship.
“We’re going to work tirelessly over the next month to get as many folks as possible to the path of citizenship before the increase,” said Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix.
The nationwide campaign, “Ya es hora. Ciudadanía!,” or “It is time. Citizenship!,” has already been launched in California, Florida and Texas. Sponsors include the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the Service Employees International Union.
There is a misconception that immigrants do not want to become citizens, said Hector Yturralde, president of the nationwide Coalición Somos América, or We Are America Coalition.
“Many people don’t step forward because of a lack of information,” Yturralde said. “Once people know there is a resource to start the process, they will encourage others also.”
Those interested can pick up citizenship information and applications at more than 20 locations of participating groups and businesses or at citizenship fairs.
Attorneys will be on hand to help fill out applications while photographers will be available to take passport photos.
“Sometimes, the ultimate moment of people’s lives is when they get citizenship,” said Monica Sandschafer of ACORN, which is helping host the workshops. “It’s time for all those folks eligible to move now.”
The effort also includes radio and newspaper advertisements.
“We are running public service announcements and recording the testimonials of people who went through the citizenship process,” said Edgar Zambrano, production manager and community affairs director of Phoenix’s Univision Radio.
The fee hike would not deter most people from pursuing citizenship, said Gloria Goldman, an immigration attorney in Tucson and member of the board of governors for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“The fee increase might affect some people, but most people who want to become citizens are going to come up with money,” Goldman said.
Applicants 18 years and older qualify for citizenship if they have status as a permanent legal resident of the United States for five years or three years if married to a U.S. citizen. Applicants must also demonstrate “good moral character,” Goldman said.
During an interview, applicants are tested on their English reading and writing skills and American history knowledge.
The elderly or those with certain disorders are allowed to take the test in Spanish but still must fill out the preliminary paperwork in English, which can be confusing, Goldman said.
“The paperwork is intimidating because it’s 11 pages long,” Goldman said. “Some are applying while still working on the English language. The assistance gets them through.”