The nation’s largest citizenship drive keeps getting bigger.
Citizenship Now!, a decades-long initiative to help New York immigrants apply for citizenship co-sponsored by CUNY and The Daily News, expects 700 aspiring U.S. citizens to show up for help with immigration paperwork at the organization’s annual event on Saturday, Sept. 21.
"The staff and the volunteers ... their job these days is not just to give information or advice or guidance, but to give hope and provide a feeling of safety when many are forced to live life in the shadows,” CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez said Wednesday.
Attorney Allan Wernick, director of Citizenship Now!, said the organization helps 15,000 immigrants apply for legal status every year.
Citizenship Now! began more than 20 years ago as a single office to support CUNY students and staff applying for citizenship. The effort expanded to include offices across the five boroughs with funding from the university, City Council and state Office of New Americans.
The organization was among the first to help Haitians fleeing the devastating 2010 earthquake apply for temporary legal status in the U.S., as well as register young Dreamers for legal status under President Obama’s 2012 DACA order.
The News joined as a partner 16 years ago, pledging to support the annual citizenship drives and help spread the word by placing advertisements. The partnership sends a “great signal” to the city’s immigrants, Matos said.
“We are proud to play a role in helping immigrants reach their dream of becoming U.S. citizens,” said Renee Mutchnik, regional director of marketing for Daily News publisher Tribune Publishing.
Hundreds of volunteers and scores of university employees will be on hand at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Sept. 21 to help prospective citizens fill out paperwork, prepare for exams and apply for fee waivers. By the time immigrant attendees walk out, Wernick said, many will be ready to mail applications that day.
“Education and perseverance are fundamental, as well as having the help of groups like CUNY’s Citizenship Now!,” said Luzdary Lozano, a Colombian immigrant who recently obtained her citizenship with the help of the organization.
Despite the effort’s growth, impending changes to federal immigration law promise to make the mission more complicated. Federal officials are considering imposing stricter requirements to qualify for a waiver of the $750 citizenship application fee — a benefit most of CUNY’s citizenship applications currently receive, according to Wernick.
Increasingly hostile national rhetoric and policies have already presented challenges for event organizers hoping to bring immigrants out of the shadows. But the organization’s long history adapting to changes in the immigration system will help it weather the new changes, Wernick said.
“We’re committed to doing everything we can to ensure that no one who qualifies to become a U.S. citizen gets discouraged,” he said.