As the push to reform U.S. immigration policy remained stalled on Tuesday, grassroots advocates and immigrant families in Florida’s Miami-Dade County took a moment to celebrate what they’re hailing as a positive local step for new Americans.
Miami-Dade County is joining the “Cities for Citizenship” campaign and opening an Office of New Americans to help eligible immigrants learn more about naturalization, financial education and legal counseling, the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC) reported on Tuesday.
The national campaign seeks to boost citizenship and has the support of New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. Miami-Dade is the first county to join the campaign, FLIC said.
“For a long time, local and national nonprofits have led naturalization efforts in the country, but we understand that in order for this to be sustainable and to really ensure that eligible permanent residents have the support they need to become new Americans and fully integrate to our country, local and state governments need to be involved,” Francesca Menes, policy and advocacy coordinator for FLIC, said in a statement.
Also celebrating the joining of the “Cities for Citizenship” campaign were Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, County Chair Jean Monestime, County Commissioner Levine Cava and Citi, which is a corporate partner.
Supporters estimate that Miami-Dade County is home to about 494,000 people who are eligible green card holders. Many of those residents, supporters add, are Haitian or Cuban. Florida is home to about 1.2 million people who are eligible for citizenship.
Grassroots advocates say that only 10 percent of permanent residents who are eligible for citizenship, though, complete the entire process. “The low rates of naturalization are usually due to lack of access to information and legal assistance, or economic and language barriers that affect mostly low-income families,” FLIC said in a statement, adding that filing fees can cost about $680.
Naturalized immigrants can earn more money, sometimes about 10 percent more than when they lacked legal status. FLIC estimates that between $2 billion to $3 billion could go to the Miami-Dade County economy over five years if 247,000 permanent residents gain citizenship and their earnings go up.
“Those who gain citizenship are able to access more jobs, achieve economic mobility and improve the livelihood of their families,” FLIC said.
Miami-Dade County also is receiving help from Catholic Legal Services, the region’s public libraries, Florida International University School of Law and Catalyst Miami, which is a grassroots organization. The “Cities for Citizenship” campaign is receiving support from the Center for Popular Democracy and the National Partnership for New Americans.
The Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC), which was founded in 1998, works on human rights and social policy issues.