Group holds Citizenship Day in Pasco to help Green Card holders

An immigration advocacy group is holding its semi-annual Citizenship Day today, Oct. 18, to help legal permanent residents wade through naturalization paperwork.

The group is offering a free legal clinic from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Columbia Basin College's Center for Career and Technical Education in Pasco.

The event, one of four organized throughout the state, is expected to draw a long line of people interested in fulfilling their dream of becoming a United States citizen.

"A big barrier to citizenship is the (Form N-400). A lot of people who particularly don't speak English as a first language find it daunting to fill out," said Pavan Vangipuram, spokesman for the Seattle-based nonprofit OneAmerica.

People who attend the workshop will get paired with a pro bono attorney to first determine if they're eligible for citizenship and, if so, get individualized help with the documents.

Legal permanent resident is the legal term for a Green Card holder. There is a long list of qualifications to advance in the process, like living in the U.S. for five years and having good moral character.

Vangipuram said Washington has more than 180,000 legal permanent residents who are eligible for naturalization, but for whatever reason haven't taken the final step. A common barrier is the application fee is about $700, though some people are eligible for a fee waiver, he said.

"You are not deportable if you are a U.S. citizen. You can enter and leave the country freely without any kind of visa worries or bureaucratic error that could prevent you from returning," he told the Herald. "And you can sponsor family members. A lot of families are split up because of immigration issues."

New citizens also can vote.

Citizenship Day is a positive, life-changing opportunity for immigrants at a time when Congress and President Obama aren't making progress on the broken immigration system, Vangipuram said.

Vangipuram said the clinic at 2600 N. 20th Ave. will have nine attorneys, 15 paralegals, eight interpreters and eight general volunteers. Languages spoken at the workshop will include English Spanish, Turkish, Italian, Romanian, French, Tamil and German.

There also will be a representative fluent in American Sign Language.

The organization selected the languages based on its research in the community and availability, Vangipuram said.

The Washington New Americans program is in partnership with the Washington chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The group encourages people who don't know their status to attend. Even if they're not eligible right now, they can get educated on what it takes and may qualify for the event next April or in one year, Vangipuram said.

The clinic will accept people until 3 p.m., but Vangipuram said it's better if they get there earlier just in case paperwork takes an extra long time.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer