SAN FRANCISCO – Mildred Cordova thinks the time has come for her 74-year-old mother to become a U.S. citizen.
Cordova, 44, came to the United States from the Philippines in 2001. Her mother, Teresita Sarmiento, followed in 2010. While Cordova gained citizenship when she married a U.S. citizen, her mother still doesn’t have U.S. citizenship.
One of the biggest barriers her mother has faced as a lawful permanent resident rather than a citizen, says Cordova, is around access to health care.
In 2014, thanks to the Accountable Care Act, permanent residents who have been in the U.S. for at least five years, but who have not worked here for the required 40 quarters (10 years) can still receive Medicare But the federal health care program for people ages 65 and older and people with disabilities, requires certain lawful permanent residents to pay an expensive premium—$441 a month this year–which is covered for those who did pay into the system through their work for all those years. Otherwise, naturalization ensures access to Medicare on the same basis as all other Americans.
That’s what brought Cordova and her mother to Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on a Saturday in May, for a free citizenship workshop held by San Francisco’s Pathways to Citizenship Initiative. San Francisco is one of 17 sites across the country that form the New Americans Campaign, a national network that is working to help green card holders like Cordova’s mother to become U.S. citizens.
Cordova says her own life has improved in many ways since becoming a citizen – most importantly, she says, “I can vote.” She’s looking forward to voting in the 2016 elections, and now has health care and the ability to travel home to the Philippines to see her family.
According to Anni Chung, the CEO of Self-Help for the Elderly, over 2000 people came to the event. She said that there are many elders in the city who have still not made the leap from legal permanent resident status to citizen, even though many are currently eligible for citizenship. “We want to help as many people to be citizens [as possible],” said Chung.
At the workshop, SF Pathways helped low-income families apply for fee waivers for the naturalization application, provided attorneys to aid individuals with legal issues, and gave assistance with all stages of the naturalization process, from eligibility assessments to application preparation.
“I didn’t know this kind of event exists for real,” said Mrs. Kim, a 55-year-old Korean immigrant who came to the workshop. “At first, I couldn’t believe that I could get this assistance with citizenship for free.”
Kim has lived in the United States for 15 years. She got her green card ten years ago, but she hadn’t yet taken the steps required to become a citizen. She got a letter in the mail inviting her to the workshop, and she thought it was time to take the next step.
For more information about the New Americans Campaign, go to:http://newamericanscampaign.org/