Today, Citizenship Day, we recognize and honor the millions of Americans who are naturalized US citizens, immigrants who hail from all corners of the globe but who have proudly taken the oath of US citizenship.
The path to the oath is one that can be long and challenging – there are many requirements to become a naturalized US citizen – but it is also one that is within clear reach for those who receive the necessary assistance and who are able to marshall the often precious and limited resources (including time as well as money) needed to file the application and pass the interview and test.
Naturalized US citizens – who must be legal permanent residents (LPRs) or “green card” holders – are incredibly diverse but over the past 10 years, immigrants from Asia have been the largest and fastest-growing LPR population.
Among new LPRs in 2013, more than 40 percent were born in Asia, mainly China, India and the Philippines, according to the 2013 Annual Flow Report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics. That number is up from 36 percent in 2006. Since 2009, Asian immigration has outpaced Latino immigration and while the overall Asian American population is still relatively small compared to the much larger Latino population, immigration has added some 3 million more Asian Americans since 2000.
Contrary to deep-rooted stereotypes of Asian immigrants as perpetual foreigners – images that trace their roots to the 19th century and were reinforced through more than a century of laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II – many Asian immigrants are eager to naturalize and to exercise their growing political and social clout, including through the ballot box.
In addition, many immigrants recognize the other advantages to US citizenship including greater security economically – naturalized citizens earn on average 11 percent more than legal noncitizens – and greater legal protections.
To ensure that these new waves of immigrants are able to successfully complete their journey to US citizenship, it’s critical that resources targeting aspiring US citizens be accessible to linguistically and culturally diverse communities.
First and foremost, this means free or low-cost legal assistance for those applying for citizenship. Across the country, organizations like Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles have joined the New Americans Campaign (NAC) to meet this need. NAC is a collaboration of more than 100 organizations – funders, national partners, and local affiliates – who work in multiple states to help LPRs become US citizens.
In the past three years, NAC has provided free assistance to more than 100,000 citizenship applicants, including nearly 30,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). To help immigrants successfully become US citizens, Advancing Justice – LA and our local partners also provide AAPI language assistance, ranging from bilingual volunteers to translated materials and videos to dual language civics and English language classes.
But, this is a drop in the bucket relative to the nearly nine million LPRs, including the two million AAPI LPRs, who are eligible to apply now or in the next few years. While organizations across the country like Advancing Justice – LA have taken action to assist LPRs through the naturalization process, we need more organizations and resources to join our campaign.
On this Citizenship Day, we celebrate not only the many immigrant Americans who have successfully become US citizens, but we also lift up the needs of the many more immigrants waiting in the wings to realize their dream of being an American citizen.
Stewart Kwoh is the founding president and executive director and Nasim Khansari is the citizenship network manager of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles.
For more information about the New Americans Campaign, please visit newamericanscampaign.org.