Houston – Naturalize Now, Houston! That’s the call to action for the 300,000 lawful permanent residents in the region who are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. The City of Houston, Harris County, Houston Endowment, National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC) and other nonprofit organizations announced an unprecedented public-private partnership to help eligible immigrants apply for citizenship.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, “Becoming a U.S. citizen is an important step towards full participation in our society. Lawful permanent residents contribute significantly to our city’s cultural diversity and economic growth. We are proud to collaborate with the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), Houston Endowment, and Harris County to support and encourage more individuals to pursue U.S. citizenship. By doing so, we enhance Houston’s unity and prosperity.”
Also today, Mayor Turner offered a proclamation declaring September 19 as Citizenship Day in Houston, following the national observance on September 17. Harris County celebrated the national observance with a resolution on August 29.
“The American dream is deeply tied to the story of immigrants, and I commend the determination and grit of anyone going through the naturalization process,” said Commissioner Lesley Briones of Precinct 4. “I am proud of Harris County’s collaboration with the National Partnership for New Americans to bring robust naturalization services to our area. The strength of our region and the health of our democracy depend on our ability to deliver on the great promise of this nation.”
Houston Endowment is funding this initiative with a $2.13 million grant to NPNA to strengthen and expand naturalization programming, along with $1.65 million for “Give Citizenship A Boost,” a program to fund application fees for eligible immigrants. Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative is leading that project.
“When eligible individuals become naturalized citizens, they unlock opportunities for greater stability and prosperity and make our region stronger as a whole,” said Ann B. Stern, President and CEO of Houston Endowment. “Houston is home to 300,000 legal permanent residents who add to the rich diversity of our city. We want to ensure these individuals are equipped with the information and resources they need to become full and active participants in our community.”
Born in the Central African Republic, Hervé-Michel Jackson Bremaidou was living in the U.S. as an international student when civil war broke out in his native country. Eight years after obtaining asylum, Mr. Jackson Bremaidou just became a U.S. citizen. He explained, “Becoming a U.S citizen is like a superhero joining the Justice League, alongside amazing heroes like Batman and Wonder Woman. Let’s accomplish greatness by being the indivisible one American nation under God.”
Through Naturalize Now, Houston! NPNA will train teams of Citizenship Community Navigators, together with local partners Mi Familia Vota, Woori Juntos, OCA-Greater Houston, and SAAVETX Education, to reach the eligible-to-naturalize people across greater Houston.
The Citizenship Community Navigators are trusted leaders within their communities, many of whom have personal experience with the naturalization process. Their job is to address language barriers, help community members navigate the naturalization process, and connect them to low-cost legal services as well as financial assistance for application fees. “No one should be priced out of participating in our democracy,” said Nicole Melaku, Executive Director of National Partnership for New Americans.
“We understand that the citizenship application fee of $725 is a significant financial burden for families with limited means. Through the ‘Give Citizenship A Boost’ project, we will help individuals overcome this barrier by covering the application fees,” said Zenobia Lai, Executive Director of Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative. “Together with our eight project partners serving diverse immigrant communities, we will make citizenship attainable.”
The organizations are also collaborating with the City of Houston and Harris County to hire an official in each office to expand the role local governments play in promoting citizenship. This follows the commitments laid down in the Harris County Citizenship Day resolution, which passed on August 29, and Mayor Turner’s Citizenship Day proclamation before City Council today.
Dayana Iza, Texas Programs Manager for Mi Familia Vota said, “Mi Familia Vota Texas is committed to helping our immigrant communities naturalize. When we utilize a Citizenship Community Navigator model, we will reach more people, help reduce their fears, and assist eligible immigrants in the naturalization process. We are committed to helping those in our community take the next step in their naturalization journey. We know that an organized, engaged, educated community can help strengthen our democracy.”
In Suk Min has been a lawful permanent resident for twenty-five years. She has wanted to apply for citizenship, but worried about her English ability and finding the funds to apply. “I heard that Woori Juntos and various organizations are helping people like me, who have permanent residency but not yet received citizenship, through free counseling and citizenship application help, and volunteers in various languages. Now, I am going to go forward and apply.”
“We know that community-based media are the most trusted sources of information for people across greater Houston, and that local governments play a critical role in advancing citizenship initiatives for their residents,” added Melaku of NPNA, the convener of this initiative. “Citizenship opens the door to opportunities for immigrants, to the benefit of entire communities. If we are going to reach 300,000 eligible people with information, tools, and help so that they can become full U.S. citizens, we need everyone’s help.”
The National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) is a national multiethnic, multiracial partnership network of 66 of the country’s leading immigrant and refugee rights organizations who together advocate for policies and programs to successfully integrate New Americans. NPNA exists to advance an immigrant equity and inclusion agenda at the state, local and federal level through policy, advocacy, and service programs that create vast opportunities for immigrant and refugee communities to achieve full civic, social and economic justice.