Program Has Covered Naturalization Costs for Nearly 1,000 Immigrants Since 2016
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo launched the third round of NaturalizeNY – the first-of-its-kind public-private partnership to encourage eligible immigrants in New York State in becoming U.S. citizens. Citizenship benefits immigrants through stronger protections from deportation, the right to vote and run for elected office, and the ability to assist more family members with immigrating to the United States.
“We are in unprecedented times, where the federal government is openly hostile to immigrants, putting blockades and walls in place to prevent them from achieving the American dream,” Governor Cuomo said. “We are a nation of immigrants, and New York will always fight to remove barriers to inclusion, including those that put low-income families at another disadvantage.”
NaturalizeNY is administered and supported by Governor Cuomo’s Office for New Americans in partnership with Robin Hood, New York Community Trust, Stanford University’s Immigration Policy Lab, as well as faculty from SUNY Albany and George Mason University.
The initiative assists low-income immigrants in gaining U.S. citizenship. Eligible immigrants may register and enter a lottery for a voucher to cover the $725 naturalization application fee. Applicants may apply online at www.NaturalizeNY.org, via the New Americans Hotline at 800-566-7636 or by visiting an ONA Opportunity Center. The registration period runs from May 1 – June 15, 2018.
Since 2016, 916 immigrant New Yorkers were offered vouchers through the program to cover naturalization fees. More than 3,000 immigrants entered the program seeking help to pursue citizenship. Up to 900 vouchers are expected to be awarded this year.
“My grandparents struggled with poverty in Ireland, and came to the United States looking for a better life,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “For many this is the quintessential American experience that binds us — regardless of whether the immigrants came a century ago or last week. It is that legacy of inclusion that has earned us the respect of people from around the world. Regardless of what occurs in Washington, the immigrant experience in our state is far more positive because of programs like this. We remain committed to helping them become citizens as they raise families, become entrepreneurs, start small businesses, and pursue new lives in communities throughout our state.”
NaturalizeNY registrants must be naturalization-eligible lawful permanent residents (green card holders) residing in New York State and have incomes below 300 percent of the federal poverty guideline. They must not be eligible for a federal fee waiver. Registrants who win a voucher will be notified at the end of June and referred to an Office for New Americans Opportunity Center to complete the naturalization application and receive their voucher.
Office for New Americans Opportunity Centers provide comprehensive support through the naturalization process – featuring free eligibility screenings, application assistance, and naturalization exam preparation.
The federal government only grants U.S. citizenship to immigrants with lawful status after the individual fulfills the requirements established by Congress. The process of becoming a citizen, referred to as naturalization, generally includes an extensive application to the federal government, submission of fingerprints to be used for a criminal background check by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, passing a language and civics exam, and an interview with a federal immigration officer. After this process, an immigrant is not yet a U.S. citizen until after the individual takes the Oath of Allegiance at a citizenship ceremony.
“From the Office for New Americans, the Liberty Defense Project, and NaturalizeNY, Governor Cuomo has put in place robust resources for our immigrant communities,” New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said. “New York will continue to serve as a model for the rest of the nation on how we treat our neighbors. The NaturalizeNY lottery delivers the promise of hope to New Yorkers seeking to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship.”
NaturalizeNY also provides free comprehensive support through the naturalization process, including eligibility screenings, application assistance, naturalization exam preparation, and federal fee waiver application assistance. In addition to expanding opportunity for New Yorkers, NaturalizeNY will also provide a boost to the state’s economy.
NaturalizeNY lifts the financial barrier to citizenship faced by New Yorkers, creating opportunity for immigrants and New York’s diverse communities. According to the U.S. Census, 915,000 New Yorkers hold a green card and are eligible for citizenship, including approximately 654,720 in New York City. Recent research from Stanford University’s Immigration Policy Lab found that the cost of the application was a major barrier to these immigrants seeking citizenship. The threshold to have the federal fee waived means New Yorkers could be blocked from becoming citizens because of the financial barrier. For example, an individual earning $35,000 a year makes too much to qualify for a federal fee waiver, and the cost of applying for citizenship works out to the equivalent of about a week’s pay. While the federal fee waiver is available to individuals whose household income is at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, NaturalizeNY is open to those who are at 150 – 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
Immigrants who become citizens see an almost 9 percent increase in earnings, according to a 2015 Urban Institute study. This leads to higher tax revenue and lower reliance on public benefits.
To support up to 1,800 citizenship applicants, New York State, Robin Hood and the New York Community Trust are investing more than $1.2 million to cover the $725 application fee through fee assistance vouchers. The funding will be paid directly to the federal government by the campaign partners and cover the full cost of the naturalization process. Vouchers will be awarded following the lottery in June, and administered by personnel from the Office for New Americans and Stanford University.
Assemblywoman Michaelle C. Solages, Chair of the State Assembly’s Taskforce on New Americans said, “As the federal government becomes increasingly more aggressive towards our New American communities, we are reminded that citizenship is a pin of safety, and we must continue to ensure accessibility to naturalization services. I commend Governor Cuomo for this valuable initiative.”
Rey Koslowski, University at Albany, SUNY, said, “NaturalizeNY has already enabled our research team to explain some of the barriers that our fellow New Yorkers face when seeking US citizenship; future studies will explain the benefits of naturalizing New Yorkers for the state’s economic development and civic participation after they become citizens.”
Professor Allan Wernick, Director, CUNY Citizenship Now!, said, “U.S. Citizenship is a privilege sought by many but granted to only a few. But it is also a right. No one should be denied that right for lack of funds. The NaturalizeNY fee voucher program is an important contribution to insure that no qualified New Yorker be denied the right to become a U.S. citizen. We applaud Governor Cuomo and the Robin Hood Foundation and New York Community Trust foundations for continuing to fund this program.”
Duncan Lawrence, executive director of the Stanford Immigration Policy Lab, said, “IPL’s mission is to design and evaluate innovative policies that improve immigrants’ lives and strengthen our communities. We are thrilled to join our partners in helping New Yorkers overcome the financial barriers to citizenship through NaturalizeNY.”
Justin Gest, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, said, “NaturalizeNY is an extraordinary opportunity for New York’s green card holders to reap the benefits of American citizenship, and it’s an extraordinary opportunity to understand all the benefits that American citizenship holds as well.”
Veyom Bahl, a managing director at Robin Hood, said, “For the past 30 years, Robin Hood has been committed to one mission: fighting poverty in New York City. By becoming U.S. citizens, our neighbors get access to new economic opportunities. At Robin Hood, we are proud to join our partners in supporting New Yorkers as they build stronger futures for their families.”
Shawn Morehead, program director overseeing The New York Community Trust’s work on immigration, said, “We want the newest New Yorkers to work, vote, and feel safe in our City. The Trust has a long history of helping the City’s immigrants participate fully in the city’s economy and democracy, and we’re thrilled to continue this tradition by underwriting the cost of applying for citizenship for hundreds of our neighbors.”
José Calderón, President of the Hispanic Federation, the nation’s leading Latino nonprofit membership organization, said, “As our immigrant brothers and sisters face a relentless assault from our federal government, NaturalizeNY is an important rejoinder that in New York we honor our state’s past, present, and future by investing in and supporting our immigrants. With Latinos representing the largest immigrant community in the Empire State, the Hispanic Federation and its network of Latino Community-based organizations applaud Governor Cuomo’s renewal of NaturalizeNY and remain committed to working with his Office for New Americans in enabling immigrants to become US citizens and break down financial barriers that are often in their way of naturalizing.”
Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, said, “Catholic Charities is proud to again play a key role in this year’s NaturalizeNY lottery, helping New Yorkers across the state to register through the New Americans Hotline. This initiative by NYS to encourage citizenship is more important than ever at a time when anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric have continued to tear the very fabric of our society. We are a nation of immigrants. We are stronger and revitalized by welcoming and integrating immigrants into the United States.”
Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director of the Asian American Federation, said, “We thank the Governor for renewing NaturalizeNY for a third year to support low-income immigrants seeking financial assistance to cover their citizenship application fees – some of who benefited through our Opportunity Center. At a time where immigrant engagement is more important than ever, this program provides an opportunity for our community members to gain further access to civic and voter participation. We hope many in our diverse Asian immigrant communities will take advantage of this initiative.”
NaturalizeNY is part of Governor Cuomo’s efforts to help immigrants and minority populations fully participate in New York’s civic and economic life. The Office for New Americans, the nation’s first statutorily created immigrant services office, recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. Since its inception, the Office for New Americans has helped more than 200,000 New Americans navigate the naturalization process, start and grow their own businesses, learn English, and become part of New York’s diverse cultural fabric. Of these:
- 19,543 were Naturalization and DACA applications and referrals;
- 34,938 participated in ESOL classes throughout the state;
- 4,986 partook in entrepreneurship classes across New York;
- 500 graduated with at least 20 hours of English language coursework via Cell-Ed, a phone-based English learning system for individuals who have difficulty reaching an actual classroom; and
- 1,540 are actively engaged in Cell-Ed throughout the state.
The Office for New Americans work is enhanced by the New Americans hotline – 800-566-7636 – where individuals can obtain free, multi-lingual services and file fraud complaints. Since its inception, more than 150 complaints against fraudulent legal service providers made to the hotline have resulted in referrals to appropriate District Attorneys’ offices.
In addition to providing free, direct assistance to individuals, the Office for New Americans has conducted more than 6,000 seminars and meetings to educate New Yorkers on how to apply for a passport, how to apply for college, what to do if/when immigration officers come to their homes, what avenues are available for victims of domestic violence, and more.
The Office for New Americans also established a network of navigators throughout the state with a focus on providing accurate and reliable information to immigrant and refugee communities. These Office for New Americans navigators lead roundtable discussions with affiliated groups and advocates, workforce development programs, community conversations to forge relationships between communities, and trainings for additional navigators to further the Office for New Americans mission.
The Office for New Americans also recently launched another first-in-the-nation program to support parents and families caring for unaccompanied and/or undocumented children through a partnership with the Children’s Village and its Office for New Americans Centers at Central American Refugee Center in Long Island and Neighbors Link in Westchester County.
The successful Office for New Americans Opportunity Center model was recognized in 2017 at the United Nations’ Fourth Mayoral Forum on Human Mobility, Migration and Development in Berlin, Germany, marking the first time a state-led integration effort was recognized at a U.N. event.
The Office for New Americans has recently increased outreach in the wake of the Trump administration’s arbitrary decision to end Temporary Protected Status for individuals from El Salvador, Haiti, and Nicaragua. Of the 114,127 Salvadorans currently living in New York State, 16,200 are Temporary Protected Status beneficiaries and will be impacted by the federal government’s decision to end recognition.
Liberty Defense Project
Created by Governor Cuomo in 2017 in response to hostile federal policies, the Liberty Defense Project is the nation’s first state-led project to assist immigrants – regardless of status – in obtaining access to legal services and process. The Liberty Defense Project provides essential legal services on deportation defense, direct representation, consultations, application assistance, and more. The public-private partnership is administered by the Office for New Americans and run in partnership with law firms, legal associations, advocacy organizations, colleges, universities, and bar associations across the state.
Since July 2017, the Liberty Defense Project provided more than 10,000 free and confidential services to individuals needing legal assistance through its network of 47 community-based groups.
Immigrants and Refugees in New York State
According to the American Immigration Council:
- One in five New Yorkers is an immigrant – 4.5 million, or 22.9 percent of the state’s population in 2015. One in six is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent.
- Immigrants make up more than 25 percent of New York’s labor force and contribute billions of dollars in federal and state taxes.
- New York’s immigrant-led households added to the state’s economy by spending more than $103 billion in after-tax income in 2014 alone.
- There are 347,573 immigrant business owners, accounting for 33.8 percent of all self-employed New York residents in 2015 and generating $7.2 billion in business income.
- Nearly 44,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients live in New York, according to USCIS.