The world becomes a wider place for an immigrant when they become a US citizen. They gain protection from deportation, can petition to bring other family members to the US, obtain citizenship for their children, travel with a US passport, be considered for federal jobs, become an elected official, and possibly most importantly, they can vote. With approximately nine million lawful permanent residents eligible for naturalization today, the political voices and votes of those potential new citizens could have enormous power in future elections.  

 But there was a decline in naturalizations in 2020 as the pandemic shut so many things down and fewer people were able to take that last step and become a citizen. The good news is that the U.S. is acclimating to the new normal of living alongside COVID; the number of 2021 naturalizations rose by 30 percent from 2020, with 814,000 new citizens, according to the latest naturalization statistics from the Department of Homeland Security. Newly naturalized immigrants come from all over the world; a large proportion from countries including Mexico, India, the Philippines, Cuba and China, meaning an increasingly diverse US population is empowered to participate in the democratic process.  

 However, even with the eventual benefits of citizenship, naturalization can be expensive and intimidating to many without an experienced attorney to walk them through the current 20-page N-400 application and overall process. Luckily, AILA members and local organizations across the country are  stepping forward to offer their expertise and guidance to help immigrants achieve this important milestone as part of pro bono efforts for AILA Citizenship Day! 

 AILA Citizenship Day takes place Saturday, September 17th. AILA is teaming up once again with national partners, NALEO Educational Fund and the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA). NALEO understands the Latino community’s need for access to timely and accurate information about the naturalization process. That is why it operates the 1-888-839-8682 toll-free, bilingual hotline, operating Monday to Friday between 8 am and 8 pm EST and is staffed by fully trained, bilingual operators who can answer callers’ questions about the application process and refer them to available opportunities for assistance with the naturalization application in their communities. NPNA is currently in the second year of its campaign, Naturalize 2 Million by 2022. The campaign’s goal is to educate and empower eligible immigrants to take the final step in their immigration path to vote in the 2022 midterm election in November and AILA members are excited to contribute to this goal.  

 23 AILA chapters across the country are working with local partners to organize events and AILA members are raising their hands to volunteer. Given COVID, there will be a mix of virtual and in-person events, with some virtual events accepting remote volunteers. If you know someone prepared to take the final step toward citizenship or you are interested in volunteering, please visit the national list of Citizenship Day events taking place on or around September 17th 

 As AILA Executive Director Ben Johnson noted in our press statement about this effort, “AILA Citizenship Day inspires all of us at AILA, because America isn’t just a country, it is an idea nurtured and strengthened by new citizens who bring their energy and commitment to the ongoing work of building a more perfect union. But becoming a citizen is a complex process, and having an expert in immigration law ready to help can make those last steps to citizenship so much easier. We are so grateful to our partner organizations, and our member volunteers, who come together to offer opportunities for immigrants so they are best positioned to finish the complex process of becoming a citizen, and feel that sense of belonging as part of our American community.”   

 Thank you to all of our members and partners who make this project a success – see you Saturday!