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Cambia tu Vida, New York

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Claudia Ornelas

On March 2, 2014 I had the pleasure of taking part in the Cambia tu Vida Campaign media launch in New York City and experiencing the excitement brewing as community, religious, and government leaders gathered to promote naturalization as a benchmark of integration.

The Cambia tu Vida Citizenship Campaign (“Citizenship: It Changes Your Life/Citizenship: Change Your Life”) is a national campaign to encourage lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to become citizens. To date, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) has successfully launched Cambia tu Vida in Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, and now New York City.

For the campaign in New York, Catholic Migration Services (CMS), the Diocese of Brooklyn, and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) partnered to encourage immigrants to reach the dream of citizenship. Immigrants have shaped New York’s fabric and contribute to the vitality and vibrant spirit that defines this city. We aim to help New York’s 684,000 legal permanent residents further integrate, contribute to their communities, and find continued stability by applying for citizenship.

Speakers and attendees at the launch included Senator Charles Schumer, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Father Patrick Keating, City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras of Queens, Representative Grace Meng of Queens, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Kelly Marie Fay Rodriguez of AFL-CIO’s Immigration and Community Action, and Assemblyman Francisco Moya. One by one,  representatives stood at the podium, addressing the crowd about the importance of naturalization. With compassion and empathy, each spoke about immigration from personal experiences, because they had immigrant parents or grandparents, had served and worked with immigrants, or represented immigrant communities in their diverse districts.

Bishop DiMarzio, for example, spoke about his grandparents.  His grandfather became a citizen after 45 years in the United States and his grandmother resided in the country for 75 years before filling out naturalization applications. Bishop DiMarzio expressed understanding of why many LPR’s wait to apply for naturalization and emphasized the benefits of citizenship. “As a citizen, he explained, “you can vote, you can go all over the world, you are protected by the U.S. government and you have other benefits you don’t have as a permanent resident. We are here to help.”

Immigration is personal; it  impacts all of us. That message resonated throughout the Cambia tu Vida launch. In immigration there is no “us” and “them.”  As many speakers expressed: we are all in this together, we are here to help, and we are part of this community.

As City Council woman Julissa Ferraras expressed, “This is our home!” And what better way of honoring our home than by taking the opportunity that citizenship offers of further participating in our communities.

As a first generation immigrant myself, I felt empowered by the energy of the crowd and the voices of government and religious leaders.  As advocates, being a part of Cambia tu Vida brought us together to further shape New York’s legacy of immigrant-driven community engagement.

CLINIC is proud to have partnered with CMS to launch the campaign in New York, and we hope to bring the Cambia tu Vida initiative to other cities.

Catholic Migration Services will host two “mega workshops” on April 5th and April 26th designed to process thousands of naturalization applications free of charge, excluding federal fees, as part of the New Americans Campaign and Cambia Tu Vida campaign. All eligible Legal Permanent Resides are encouraged to attend.

For more information on Cambia tu Vida Citizenship Campaign visit:

To view the Cambia tu Vida public service announcements, click here:

*Claudia Ornelas is Communication Officer at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)