Paving the way for New Americans in Philly
Esperanza Immigration Legal Services and five other local immigrant-serving organizations are kick starting the Philly branch of the national campaign that supports eligible immigrants in the naturalization process.
Philadelphia is the latest U.S. city to join in the New Americans Campaign (NAC), a multi-organizational collaborative network supporting eligible immigrants in the naturalization process in over 20 metropolitan areas across the country.
Established in 2011 and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Democracy Fund, and Open Society Foundations, among others, the national network works with partner organizations in cities across the nation to support lawful permanent residents that are eligible for naturalization with legal assistance, information, and increased physical and financial accessibility to services necessary in the process of becoming a citizen.
The new Philadelphia branch of the initiative, launched March 15, will work with an inaugural group of six local immigrant-serving organizations — Catholic Social Services, HIAS PA, Esperanza Immigration Legal Services, the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Commission (SEAMAAC), the African Cultural Alliance of North America (ACANA), and the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians — to help 500 Philadelphia-area lawful permanent residents become naturalized citizens by the end of June.
The partner organizations are planning clinics and other outreach with the support of Take Action Philly, a collaborative effort formed in Jan. 2017 by the Philadelphia Bar Association, nonprofit legal aid organizations, and the City of Philadelphia to provide free citizenship screenings and clinics for legal permanent residents interested in embarking on the naturalization process.
“The NAC work fits in perfectly with the work that Esperanza has been trying to do in our community,” said Alexis Duecker, executive director of Esperanza Immigration & Legal Services (EILS), one of the six local partners chosen for NAC Philadelphia. EILS has been working in North Philadelphia since 2009 to "provide direct legal services, advocacy, and community education" to immigrants and their families, with a particular focus on the Hispanic community, according to the EILS mission statement.
Tina Barber, vice president of development at Esperanza, Inc., said that EILS, like many of the NAC collaborating organizations, is “serving the most vulnerable and low income immigrants in the city." By providing translation and interpretation from a bilingual staff, and locating their services in neighborhoods where Latino immigrants live, EILS seeks to address the educational challenges, financial barriers of application costs, and physical accessibility issues that each year deter around eight million eligible lawful permanent residents nationwide from initiating the citizenship process.
“People are unsure in this climate and people who are eligible are even afraid to come and find out,” Barber said. “The more that we can reassure people that we’re here and it’s safe,” she added, “...[it] reduces the fear that they have to go outside of their comfort zone.”
Barber noted that the NAC collaborative is particularly exciting because it presents a rare opportunity for immigrant-serving institutions to compare notes and work together to design optimal strategies for reaching lawful personal residents and improving access to the naturalization process.
Through NAC, said Barber, EILS and other partner organizations have the chance to “think more creatively and strategically about how we can do this work better for the citizens of Philadelphia for as long as they need us.”
EILS and the other organizations will host the first NAC Philadelphia clinic on March 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Esperanza College. NAC Philadelphia is planning to schedule one citizenship clinic each month through the end of June.
Barber said that there is a screening process for those interested in attending the legal clinics to ensure that residents meet the necessary requirements for naturalization and have the proper documents with them on the day of the clinic in order to get started with the naturalization process.
EILS and all of the NAC partner organizations are inviting those interested in participating in clinics, as well as attorneys and non-attorneys who want to volunteer their time, to contact [email protected], or call EILS or any of the five other individual agencies participating in the NAC collaborative. Attorneys interested in volunteering their time and legal expertise can also fill out the online form provided by NAC Philadelphia.
In addition to moving ahead with citizenship clinics, Barber noted that the NAC Philadelphia will receive a matching grant fund to start off their programming, meaning that every dollar up to $20,000 that is received by any of the partner agencies for the use of citizenship services through June 30 will be matched by the NAC national funders. Barber said that NAC Philadelphia hopes to use this additional funding to leverage the program in the coming years, as they continue to add new partners.