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Longtime legal residents aim for citizenship

September 19, 2018

Ivonne Miranda, a legal permanent resident in Santa Fe for seven years, never made the move toward citizenship. She felt secure enough.

Not anymore.

It’s a different sort of country.

Which calls for a different sort of approach to naturalization and citizenship for legal permanent residents, sometimes referred to as green card holders.

Somos Un Pueblo Unido, the New Mexico immigrant-rights advocacy nonprofit, is taking the initiative.

Somos has launched a new naturalization program for city and county residents, an effort, organizers said, to both reduce the anxiety of non-citizens in an era of capricious immigration crackdowns and to enhance immigrant participation in the community and in democracy at large.

“By becoming a citizen, you protect not only yourself but also you protect your family,” said Emmanuelle “Neza” Leal-Sánchez of Somos. “Also you protect your community. Because now you can vote, and raise your voice as an immigrant.”

The grant-funded initiative, called Citizenship Now!, will guide legal permanent residents in Santa Fe through the naturalization application process, securing the American citizenship of as many as 450 immigrants living in the area over the next two years, according to Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos.

“There has never been a proactive naturalization program in Santa Fe — ever,” Díaz said.

Roughly 4,000 lawful permanent residents, who are lawfully present in the U.S. and eligible to apply for full citizenship, live in Santa Fe County, according to the University of Southern California’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration.

Some 55,000 live in New Mexico, Díaz said.

The city of Albuquerque received the same kind of grant from a national organization as well, and with two cities in the state now working actively to achieve citizenship for eligible immigrants, Díaz said she was optimistic the collective effort could surpass what Somos has done recently in southeastern New Mexico, securing the citizenship of some 200 individuals in that region since 2016.

“These people [there] are engaged and politically active, too,” said Zulema Chavero, a Somos community organizer. “Now it’s coming to Santa Fe, we’re making it better and stronger. It’s very exciting.”

“We’re really empowering people through the process,” Díaz said.

Somos was one of 14 organizations nationwide to win the nonpartisan grant from Cities for Citizenship, a national initiative aimed at increasing citizenship among eligible U.S. permanent residents and encouraging cities to invest in citizenship programs. The organization site says it is chaired by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, with support from the Center for Popular Democracy and the National Partnership for New Americans. Citi Community Development is the founding corporate partner.

The city of Santa Fe is among the partners in the project and will make libraries available for events like peer-to-peer support and application assistance.

The grant amounts to $25,000 for each year of the two-year program, and each $25,000 disbursement will be matched by community stakeholders, Díaz said, totaling $100,000.

Somos will host a series of bilingual community forums beginning next month where legal permanent residents can learn more about the help now available to them and how to begin the naturalization process.

“Too much of the time, I think, we find ourselves playing defense, and struggling against forces from the outside trying to make life in our city harder for people,” Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber said. “What’s beautiful about this … is we get a chance to play offense. We get a chance to do something positive. We get a chance to do something constructive.”

Miranda, along with a few other legal permanent residents living in Santa Fe, spoke at a news conference Monday outside of City Hall. These are the first crop of soon-to-be new citizens who will come through the local Citizenship Now! program.

Although the president was not mentioned by name, each speaker made at least oblique reference to the more hostile environment for immigrants in the U.S., even those here legally. Each said they felt the time was right to act to secure their future — both by becoming citizens and then taking a seat “fully at the table of democracy,” as Webber said.

“Whether the government likes it or not, we contribute to this country,” Miranda said.

IF YOU GO

What: Community forums hosted by Somos Un Pueblo Unido for legal permanent residents seeking to apply for U.S. citizenship

When: Oct. 10, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Sweeney Elementary Schools, 501 Airport Road;

Nov. 13, 7 p.m., Guadalupe Credit Union, 3721 Academy Road;

Dec. 5, 5:30 p.m., Santa Fe Area Homebuilders Association, 2520 Camino Entrada;

Jan. 9, 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., Center for Progress and Justice, 1420 Cerrillos Road.

More information: Call Somos at 505-424-7832 or email at somos@somosunpueblounido.org.

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