By Tessa W. McKenzie
Our commitment to supporting newcomers is personal and at CLINIC, we are inspired by friends who have overcome numerous obstacles to become naturalized US citizens. Saba Hailu is one such friend, who journeyed from aspiring citizen to new American. Saba’s determination strengthens our resolve to ensure that the foreign-born have access to opportunities for citizenship and civic participation.
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 we celebrate our country’s birthday and independence on the Fourth of July, many of us will contemplate what it means to be Americans. Being an American for the foreign-born goes beyond the ability to vote in elections or obtain a U.S. passport. Many immigrants already feel American at heart long before they take their first step to becoming naturalized U.S. citizens – a pre-requisite to vote and obtain a passport. Many of them have integrated into their communities long before – going to weekly church services, volunteering in their children’s schools, and paying their taxes.
The Midwest has a history as a gateway for immigrants even if not as heralded as port cities in the east and west. Think of Chicago with its diverse ethnic population as early as the late 1800’s, especially among Eastern Europeans, that continues today with the largest Bosnian refugee population in the country. Think also of Detroit, Motor City, at the turn of the last century when Ford Motor Company attracted immigrant workers from Southern Europe and the Middle East to build the earliest automobiles. Detroit now has the largest Middle Eastern population in the United States, most recently welcoming tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees.
Since its inception two hundred years ago, the story of the Archdiocese of New York is an immigrant story – a tradition which continues today. For more than 30 years, the Archdiocese of New York has provided services to the foreign-born, including refugee resettlement and immigration legal services, through Catholic Charities Community Services (CCCS). As the immigrant and refugee population in the area has grown and changed, so has CCCS.
Each year on September 17, we come together as a nation of immigrants to celebrate Citizenship Day. This is an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of being a U.S. citizen and recognize the many lawful permanent residents (LPRs) in our communities who are on their journey to becoming U.S. citizens.