NYC Expands Citizenship Initiative
New York City has announced the expansion of NYCitizenship, a program launched in 2016 to provide immigrants who may be eligible for citizenship with free legal assistance and financial counseling through the City’s public libraries. Thanks to $1.6 million in public and private funding the program is expected to nearly double the number of people it will serve in its second year, allowing more New Yorkers to become citizens, become economically stable and contribute to the prosperity of the entire community.
A report from the office of New York City Comptroller, Scott Stringer, estimates that there are roughly 670,000 immigrants in New York City—20 percent of the total immigrant population in the city—who despite being eligible to apply for citizenship have not yet done so. A study in 2015 by the Urban Institute outlines the benefits of naturalization, including economic benefits to both immigrants and communities, with increases in employment rates and tax revenues, and decreases in municipal costs.
NYCitizenship is a partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, Queens Library, New York City Human Resources Administration, NYLAG, and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. The program is funded by the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity alongside private funders including Citi Community Development, the Charles H. Revson Foundation, and Robin Hood.
“Last year NYCitizenship exceeded our high expectations, and we are thrilled that with this expansion more immigrants will become fully engaged citizens with the financial knowledge and economic tools to build secure lives for themselves and their families,” said Beth Goldman, President and Attorney-in-Charge of the New York Legal Assistance Group. “And by housing the program in libraries, where New Yorkers go for a wide variety of community services, the City is sending a message that immigrants can feel safe to come forward, and get the assistance they need.”
As part of the expansion, NYLAG has added legal staff members and financial counselors dedicated to NYCitizenship. This includes bringing on board eight new paralegals who received specialized training about immigration legal services in order to serve as community navigators in public libraries in all five boroughs.
In NYCitizenship’s first year, NYLAG helped over 1,200 people with their citizenship applications, and connected over 250 clients to NYLAG financial counselors. Legal staff members provide screenings and workshops for immigrants who may be eligible for naturalization and assistance in completing the application process, while financial counselors advise on topics including banking, budgeting, debt reduction and improving personal credit scores.
Ian Cadogan is one of the people NYCitizenship was able to help, and in July he had the opportunity to talk about his experience at a press conference at the Queens Borough Public Library hosted by the City.
Cadogan was born and raised in Guyana, where he worked as a police officer for 20 years. He made the decision to come to the U.S. in 2010 after his wife died of breast cancer, leaving him with two daughters to support. He eventually came to New York and got a job as a security guard, but to get a promotion he learned he needed to become a citizen. When he began the process of applying, he spoke with an immigration lawyer who told him the legal fees would cost $1,000 – money he didn’t have. Fortunately, a coworker suggested he try NYCitizenship.
“I met my lawyer Leah Wissow, who was excellent. She made me feel comfortable during the interview and was always accessible to me if I had a question – even if she missed a call from me, she’d call right back. I already had my papers prepared when I went to the first appointment, but she helped me fine-tune them, and then took it from there” said Cadogan.
Wissow prepared and filed Cadogan’s naturalization application package, and then helped him keep track of the entire process. She would call him to make sure he received all of his appointment notices, and prepared him for what to expect at his naturalization interview. On June 16, Cadogan attended his naturalization ceremony at the US District Court in Brooklyn.
“I really appreciate the peace of mind that comes with being a citizen,” said Cadogan. “Which I’ve felt ever since that day when we stood there, raised our right hands, and took the oath. It was like taking the plane the first time I came to the United States. I didn’t sleep the night before. Nothing physically has changed, but mentally I’m much happier. I’m very proud to be a citizen of this country.”