Helping immigrants become engaged citizens through the New Americans Campaign

Today, Knight is announcing $1.5 million in support to the New Americans Campaign. Knight was a founding funder of the campaign, a national collaborative that equips local organizations with the knowledge and resources they need to help lawful permanent residents become U.S. citizens.

In the middle of a heated debate on immigration in America, one population attracts relatively little attention: the 8.8 million legal permanent residents eligible to become American citizens. Since 2011 the New Americans Campaign has been working to ensure that eligible green card holders are able to become naturalized U.S. citizens.

There are many reasons to become a naturalized citizen of the United States. U.S. citizens are able to register and vote in elections. They can travel freely in and out of the country, and they have better economic prospects too. Many jobs and benefits are open only to U.S. citizens. Of course, not everyone wants to naturalize and become a citizen. But for those who are eligible and do want to naturalize, the process should be accessible.

For many eligible legal permanent residents there are currently significant barriers to becoming a citizen through the naturalization process. The application fee alone is more than $700 – a significant barrier for the 55 percent of eligible immigrants whose household income is less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level. The application form is long and complex. In most cases it’s important to have legal counsel review your application before submitting it. All the while, divisive rhetoric has increased the fear factor around providing personal details to the federal government – particularly for those in mixed-status families.

The New Americans Campaign works to ensure that all eligible immigrants who want to become citizens have the opportunity to do so. The campaign’s local partners offer citizenship workshops, information and naturalization resources directly to eligible green card holders in the community. The campaign also includes an Innovation Fund to incentivize new approaches to service delivery, correlates and shares best practices from the field and produces an annual convening for all campaign members.

This new support will expand the campaign to incorporate partners in cities where Knight invests including Akron, Ohio; St. Paul, Minnesota and Philadelphia. These will augment existing sites where the program operates in Detroit; Charlotte, North Carolina; Miami; and San Jose, California. Over the first six years of the campaign, partners have generated more than 45,000 applications for citizenship in Knight communities. Nationwide, partners have produced more than 300,000 applications. It’s estimated that services provided to applicants have a cumulative value of more than $260 million in savings from legal and application fees.

Demand for citizenship is anticipated to remain high even as the processing time for naturalization applications continues to grow. The length of time that an application takes to be reviewed before the final step in the process, the in-person interview, has increased to more than nine months on average.

As Knight seeks to build more informed and engaged communities, we believe that citizenship should be accessible to all who qualify for it. We look forward to working alongside the campaign and its local partners to achieve that goal in the next two years.