Naturalization is a pivotal milestone in an immigrant’s integration journey. After years of contributing to their community’s success, long-time residents will then have access to all the rights and privileges native-born citizens enjoy. While many immigration legal services providers would like to devote more resources to naturalization efforts, these services are often over shadowed by other more urgent issues. Thankfully, organizations like Citizenship Project are here to fill the void.
This CLINIC affiliate is one of the few organizations whose sole focus is promoting citizenship and providing free naturalization services. Located in Las Vegas, Nevada, it was first launched in 2001 as a partnership between the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada and the Culinary Union Local 226 with the goal of helping casino workers and other lawful permanent residents, or LPRs, with the citizenship process.
Although the organization is small with only three full-time staff members, it helps nearly 1,000 LPRs submit N-400 applications each year. Citizenship Project uses the workshop model to deliver high-quality naturalization services. It coordinates and conducts workshops in partnership with organizations and immigration legal services providers around Las Vegas, such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Nevada chapter, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, the Clark County School District and the Nevada Immigrant Coalition. Support varies from providing volunteer legal services providers to contributing funding. Some even complete outreach in the community to help people get registered for the events.
Since it opened its doors, Citizenship Project has completed more than 15,000 applications and saved its applicants more than $2 million through fee waivers. Last year, Citizenship Project expanded its naturalization work by joining the New Americans Campaign in its ongoing effort to provide application assistance, outreach and information on the naturalization process and its benefits.
CLINIC staff recently had the opportunity to speak with Yvanna Cancela, Citizenship Project’s executive director, about the organization’s work and the importance of citizenship for individuals and the entire community.
What is the mission of Citizenship Project?
Citizenship Project’s mission is to help as many people as possible to and through the citizenship process successfully. We want to make sure people are able to get over any hurdles they have, be it fear of the test or paperwork, as easily and painlessly as possible.
Why is promoting citizenship for lawful permanent residents important?
Citizenship is one of the most important parts of our democracy and obtaining citizenship opens the door to democratic participation. Promoting naturalization is essential to protecting the democratic process and it allows us to have a conversation about how important immigrants are to [the United States.]
What are specific challenges for citizenship work from your perspective in Las Vegas and nationwide? Becoming a citizen is an expensive undertaking and many people delay applying and don’t prioritize it because of the cost. We, as promoting organizations, need to be clear about the benefits of citizenship and prioritizing programmatic funding for applications. Our challenge is making it clear to people why citizenship is better than LPR status and why citizenship is beneficial. Citizenship Project is actively working with community partners to talk about citizenship, what it looks like and how families can benefit from process, as well as how important it is to take that first step towards naturalization.
How is Citizenship Project working to help encourage more people to apply for citizenship and in advance of the 2020 elections?
Citizenship Project has continued to solidify community partnerships and hosts citizenship fairs every quarter. We are also making concerted effort to follow up with people who have already applied and to see if they have family member that might now be eligible.
How has Citizenship Project helped to promote integration in the wider Las Vegas community?
We offers free classes on civics and English for LPRs to help them prepare for the citizenship exam and become better integrated into the community.
How has the receiving community in Las Vegas responded to Citizenship Project’s work?
Our organization is well respected and has been well received in the community. [Our neighbors are] friendly and supportive of our work and mission. We are seen as a leader in naturalization work and issues.
What are Citizenship Project’s goals for the future?
We want to increase staff and capacity, and do a better job of getting folks who apply with us to take classes. We want to be able to follow up with them and serve them through the entire process.
CLINIC thanks Citizenship Project and all CLINIC affiliates for their tremendous work helping immigrants achieve U.S. citizenship.
For more information on how your organization can get involved with naturalization work, check out CLINIC’s Naturalization Workshop Toolkit and Citizenship Toolkit, or contact Ben Brokaw at Bbrokaw@cliniclegal.org. For more information on how your organization can help encourage LPRs to apply in time to participate in the 2020 elections read our article “The 2020 Push for Naturalization.”