Organizers of a free legal clinic in Pasco to help people with their citizenship paperwork are expecting a big turnout Sept. 17 given the current state of uneasiness with immigration in America and an anticipated price hike in the application cost.
At least 100 people are expected to attend Citizenship Day at Columbia Basin College’s Center for Career and Technical Education.
The Washington New Americans program, along with the American Immigration Lawyers Association of Washington, have organized the semi-annual event since 2008.
Similar clinics are planned Saturday in Wenatchee and Renton.
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Legal permanent residents who have a dream of becoming a United States citizens are paired with attorneys donating their time to determine if they’re eligible, and to get individualized help with the 20-page naturalization application, known as Form N-400.
Legal permanent resident is the legal term for a Green Card holder.
Typically, they must have a Green Card for five years before applying. They can apply after three years if they are married to a U.S. citizen.
The most recent data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services shows that in April through June, there was a 32 percent increase in naturalization applications over the same period in 2015, according to Sarah Sumadi, program manager for Washington New Americans.
The Pasco clinic is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., though it is first-come, first-served.
Participants are encouraged to arrive early — and bring food, drink and maybe a book — because the process can take from three to five hours.
It takes a long time because our volunteers take a lot of care, and we don’t want to send anyone away with a lot of mistakes on their form.
Sarah Sumadi, Washington New Americans
“It takes a long time because our volunteers take a lot of care, and we don’t want to send anyone away with a lot of mistakes on their form,” Sumadi said.
People will go through an intensive screening by an attorney to make sure they are eligible for citizenship and that they meet a number of requirements for approval.
A paralegal then will prepare the application, which will be reviewed by another attorney. The client ideally will leave with the application packet ready to mail, Sumadi said.
People should bring their: permanent resident card; a copy of last year’s taxes; certified court records if they’ve ever been arrested or in trouble with law enforcement; and their award letter if their receive any type of public benefit, like food stamps or Medicaid.
There are more than 8.8 million legal permanent residents in America who are eligible to become citizens, with 263,000 of those in Washington. However, for whatever reason they have yet to take the final steps to naturalization.
Sumadi said less than 10 percent of the people eligible to become citizens nationwide actually apply.
One huge barrier is the cost, she said. That’s why the organizers want to give people a chance by providing quality legal advice for free.
The application filing fee is $680, which is difficult for many people to pay all at once, especially if multiple family members apply at once. However, Citizenship and Immigration Services has proposed a fee increase to $725, and it could go into effect later this year.
Low-income people can apply for free, but they must fill out a fee waiver and submit it with their application.