Anti-immigrant critics who complain that, “They don’t want to learn English and become citizens” should see the action at CLUES. The Lake Street office bustled with activity on October 11. About 30 immigrants and lots of volunteers showed up for Citizenship Day, ready to complete the 21-page application and move on to filing.
“In general, we have gotten 30-40 people” at each Citizenship Day, Fidelity Goodlaxson said. “Honestly, 40 is about the max to get everybody through the whole process, at least until we get a larger space and more volunteers.” Many, but not all, of the hopeful applicants came from Latin American countries.
“We are a trusted agency,” says Goodlaxson. “Word is going out that it really is free, they really help you.” Goodlaxson and Jason Bryan started Citizenship Day, which is a CLUES program in partnership with the national Ya Es Hora organization, the Human Rights Coalition and Minnesota’s Volunteer Lawyers network. Saturday’s Citizenship Day was the fourth such event, with another planned for spring 2015.
Call Goodlaxson at 612-746-3554 to find out the date of the next Citizenship Day and what you need to do to prepare. She will also help with referrals to other agencies.
The Citizenship Day flyer includes a long list of documents and information that immigrants need for the application. They also need to speak English and to pass a citizenship test. Classes at CLUES can help with both requirements, says Goodlaxson, the CLUES education enrichment services manager.
Cost is one of the biggest obstacles for immigrants who want to become citizens. The application fee is $595, and there are additional costs for passport photos, fingerprints, and copies. Legal consultation is important because of the complexity of the process, and lawyers’ fees usually run $1,500 to $3,000 per application.
On Citizenship Day, volunteer lawyers review the applications, at no cost. Applicants with poverty-level incomes may also apply for a waiver of the $595 application fee. The difference, says Goodlaxson: “Huge, especially if you have four people in a family!”
She described other CLUES programs that help people with the cost of the government fees for citizenship application, including lending circles and a one-time citizenship loan program with a lender.
Other organizations also offer help with citizenship, including the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota and the Volunteer Lawyers Network, both with waiting lists, according to Goodlaxson. Citizenship Day is a walk-in, no-waiting-list opportunity for people who have collected the information and documentation they need.
Though the next Citizenship Day is months away, Goodlaxson wants people to call for help, information and referrals. “We are not fighting to make sure we get the numbers,” she says. “We will find someone else to help if we can’t.” That means calling other organizations to find out if they can help, not just giving the client a list of numbers. She hopes people will start studying English and studying for the citizenship test, as they wait for help in completing the application.
CORRECTION: Apologies to Fidelity Goodlaxson – got her name wrong the first time around!