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Miami-Dade County Gets Closer to Backing Citizenship


When it comes to helping immigrants and people with permanent residency status take steps toward gaining citizenship, grassroots advocates and families say that every bit of support matters. 

On July 2, the Miami-Dade County Commission took a supportive step when it approved a resolution backing the “Cities for Citizenship” initiative, which could make it the first governing body of its type to back this national effort to increase the number of citizens, the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC) reported.

The county resolution, if approved by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, would mandate a program for a stronger effort to boost naturalization rates. The county, FLIC said, would become the first local government in the state to support the program.

“For a long time, local and national nonprofits have led naturalization efforts in the country,” Francesca Menes, policy and advocacy coordinator for FLIC, said in a statement.

“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.”

Miami-Dade County, FLIC said, is home to about 494,000 permanent residents who are eligible to become U.S. citizens. Many of these residents are Cuban and Haitian. But only about 10 percent of permanent residents actually take the steps to become citizens, FLIC added.

“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,” the coalition said in a statement.

As of June 19, nearly 20 cities had signed on to support the “Cities for Citizenship” initiative, organizations that support it said in a statement. Most recently, San Francisco, San Jose and Reading, Pennsylvania have become initiative backers, joining Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, Seattle, Denver, Chicago and Baltimore.

“Cities are demonstrating their commitment to promoting citizenship and building inclusive cities,” Shena Elrington, director of immigrant rights and racial justice policy at the Center for Popular Democracy, said in a statement. Her organization is a key supporter of the initiative.

About 8.8 million people in the country are legal permanent residents and eligible for citizenship, supporters say. But 52 percent are low-income residents. Supporters note that citizenship opens the doors to better-paying jobs and scholarship opportunities. Citizenship, they add, can lead to jobs that pay up to 11 percent more each year for one person. Supporters also estimate citizenship will help strengthen the national economy by tens of billions of dollars.

Founded in 1998, the Florida Immigrant Coalition works on human rights and social policy issues. The Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), which has offices in New York City and Washington, D.C., works with unions and others to support workers and immigrants. 

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