Last week, the mayors of New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago announced an initiative that aims to lift legal permanent residents out of poverty by helping them to secure citizenship: Cities for Citizenship.
Citigroup will fund the $1.1 million program, which will provide free legal services, citizenship workshops, counseling, micro loans for aspiring immigrant business owners and other support.
This move will provide much-needed assistance for immigrants living in these urban areas. After all, the application fee for U.S. citizenship recently rose to $680, a sum that’s out of reach for many low-income permanent residents and almost triple what it was in 1999, as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pointed out in this New York Times op-ed.
On the same day as the Cities for Citizenship program was announced, the University of Southern California and the nonprofits The Center for Popular Democracy and the National Partnership for New Americans released a study that suggests why these cities believe it is important to push for immigrants to apply for citizenship (beyond the political benefits, that is). According to it, making the move from legal permanent residence to citizenship results in an 8 to 11 percent increase in income. Meaning that if just half of those eligible to apply for citizenship in these three cities do so, it will lead to a gain of $10 billion over 10 years. Lifting these people out of poverty would ease the strain on social services, bringing more money to local economies.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says in his announcement about the program, “From increased economic activity to larger voting and tax bases, the advantages of citizenship will not only expand opportunity to our immigrant families, but to all New Yorkers and residents nationwide.”
The Cities for Citizenship initiative is just the latest example of efforts cities and states are undertaking to better integrate immigrants into society while they wait for the federal government to tackle the problem. From drivers’ licenses and in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants to this new program, local governments across the country are demonstrating that this is an issue that can’t wait.