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CITIZENSHIP STILL A HIGH PRIORITY FOR IMMIGRANTS

Last modified: 3/7/2012 11:05 AM

More Than One Thousand People Attend 20th Citizenship & Immigrant Pride Day

More than one thousand people passed thorough the rooms and hallways of CET—Center for Employment Training on Saturday, March 21, 2009 as the Santa Clara County Citizenship Collaborative held its 20th Citizenship & Immigrant Pride Day in San Jose and Gilroy.  Free orientations and legal screenings were given in 14 different languages. County residents were provided with critical information about the citizenship process.  The opportunity for a free initial legal assessment was also given to participants who had legal questions and needed legal services.  The day included a resource fair, with many governmental and community organizations displaying their resources. In addition, a two-hour program showcased a variety of cultural presentations, ranging from Mexican, Sierra Leonean, and Indo-American dances to a community theatre, emphasizing immigrant pride and artistic contributions.

One of the most important highlights of the Day was the public unveiling of the new Save for Citizenship Program, — believed to be the first in the country —a joint undertaking of the Collaborative and the Opportunity Fund.  This program is funded by the Opportunity Fund and the Knight Foundation.  The program, which has set aside up to $1.85 million in matching funds for eligible citizenship applicants, is designed to assist and empower those with financial challenges, enabling qualified applicants to receive financial education and match funds to pay for naturalization filing fees.  Under the program, the Opportunity Fund provides eligible immigrants who enroll and save $225 over a period of 4 to 12 months, with the rest of the cost of application— $450.  More information about this program can be found at www.opportunityfund.org/ida.

The community responded to the event by coming to CET in great numbers, despite the current economic and social crisis that is forcing many to focus only on the basic needs and survival of their families.  Taking this atmosphere into account, the Collaborative appealed to county residents to consider the long and expensive citizenship process and to take advantage of the vital information provided at this free event, even though they might not be ready to apply at this time.  "We realize that paying the rent must come first and food is second, and that paying a $675 fee to the federal government might be unaffordable,” said Teresa Castellanos, Interim Director of the Santa Clara County Office of Human Relations.  “However, receiving this information now will allow residents to better prepare for the time when they are in a position to go through the process.”  

A number of dignitaries attended the celebration, representatives from Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and Congressman Mike Honda’s office visited orientations and encouraged participants and staff.  Assembly member Paul Fong also visited with community members, spoke in Cantonese to attendees of the Chinese orientation, and delivered a commendation from the State Assembly to the Collaborative.  Santa Clara County Supervisor,  Dave Cortese, Milpitas Vice-Mayor,  Pete McHugh, and Santa Clara Councilwoman,  Jamie McLeod,  visited with participants and staff as well.  

Various media outlets covered the day, including Saigon Broadcasting Television Network (SBTN), a Vietnamese station that broadcasts nationally and internationally; El Observador, a bilingual Spanish/English weekly newspaper; Sing Tao Daily, a Mandarin language newspaper; the World Journal, a Chinese language publication, and Alianza News, a Spanish language biweekly newspaper. 

The importance of this well-attended affair is underscored by the fact that, according to Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR), there are still approximately 190,000 residents eligible to naturalize in Santa Clara County.  These residents have not been able to complete their citizenship process due to various reasons.  The mission of the Santa Clara County Citizenship Collaborative is to empower eligible residents to naturalize and fully participate in the society. Over the years, the Collaborative has assisted more than 120,000 individuals in the citizenship process saving the County millions of dollars and preventing immigration fraud by notaries and other unqualified individuals.