EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Two Texas nonprofits are launching a grassroots effort to encourage 70,000 El Paso County residents to apply for U.S. citizenship.
The goal of the Citizenship on the Border campaign is to encourage these immigrants to fully integrate into their new society and empower them to vote.
“We know that legal residents are measured by a different standard than citizens. They face harsher penalties, and they can even lose their residency. (Citizenship) is the only way to secure our future in this country and to gain more representation,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.
El Paso-based BNHR and Irving, Texas-based Proyecto Inmigrante over the next six weeks will be encouraging immigrants eligible for U.S. citizenship to apply and will provide online support.
“We’ll be responsible for the legal portion of the process. Starting today and through January 21, we will be assisting people online,” said Douglas Interiano, Proyecto Inmigrante ICS executive director. “From (El Paso), they can get in touch with our legal team who will forward the paperwork to BNHR. Later, we will have in-person citizenship workshops” in El Paso.
Interiano said as many as 1.1 million adult legal immigrants in Texas who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years – or who married an American citizen and have resided here for three – are eligible to apply.
Nationwide, that number exceeds 9 million, he said.
Living so close to their former homeland, many Mexican legal immigrants often put off citizenship. Others don’t take that next step due to a language barrier or fear of failure. The citizenship exam requires a basic knowledge of U.S. government and history and English proficiency unless the applicant is over 55, Interiano said.
A few others fear petty infractions – such as misdemeanors – that they committed many years ago will come back to haunt them. But that’s where the expert advice and workshops will help clear up misgivings, the activists said.
“We know how the system works. We hear of politicians proposing to take away some people’s (legal status). As legal residents, we will always be living in fear. […] Citizenship is important for all residents right now,” he said.
Other groups spreading the word about the campaign include Border Agricultural Workers Project, Proyecto Mujeres Fronterizas, Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance (RITA), USAHello, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, A.Y.U.D.A. Inc,
For more information, visit bnhr.org.