Did you know that today is national U.S. Constitution Day and Citizenship Day? After doing some research, the OneJustice team learned that this holiday is observed each year on September 17 to commemorate the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787, and “recognize all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become citizens.” In 2010, over 700,000 petitions were filed with the federal government by individuals seeking to become U.S. citizens. For many, citizenship is an important step for civic engagement – including the right to vote in elections, hold public office, and also access government jobs or some college scholarships or federal grants. And, of course, the topic of immigration more broadly – and creating a path to citizenship – is particularly significant these days due to this summer’s announcement by President Obama that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would not deport certain DREAM Act–eligible undocumented youth. Under a special directive, these youth will be given temporary relief called “deferred action.” (For a great FAQ on Deferred Action created by the National Immigration Law Center, click here).
The network of 100+ legal nonprofit organizations provides critically important legal assistance to residents of California seeking to become U.S. citizens, through a process called “naturalization.” OneJustice’s website for the public – www.LawHelpCalifornia.org – has a great list of free resources giving more information about the path to citizenship and immigration topics more broadly. However, the demand for legal advice about citizenship and help submitting the appropriate forms far outstrips the services that are available. For example, free legal services providers in Northern California currently have the capacity to serve less than 8% of the estimated 99,000 low-income, citizenship-eligible residents. Immigration services are particularly scarce in rural areas of the state, as many of the legal nonprofit organizations that provide legal help with naturalization are located in urban areas.
OneJustice has been partnering with the rural nonprofits in its network to bring free legal help on naturalization to low-income, rural Californians. Last October, OneJustice recruited, trained, and coordinated law students from University of San Francisco and Golden Gate University to set up a free naturalization clinic in Fresno. Partnering with nonprofits in our network – including Asian Pacific Alliance Law Center, Central California Legal Services, and California Rural Legal Assistance, OneJustice’s volunteers helped 25 legal permanent residents complete and file applications for citizenship. Then again, just this past April, OneJustice loaded up the Justice Bus with law student volunteers from Golden Gate University to travel to Gilroy, California. By partnering with the local office of Catholic Charities, these law student volunteers were able to help 31 clients complete and file their application to become U.S. citizens.
For these Californians, filing the correct legal paperwork to take the first step toward citizenship was a powerful, meaningful moment. Everyone in OneJustice’s network was involved in making this possible – our partner law schools, the on-the-ground nonprofits, the volunteers, and all of our donors who give so generously.
But more help is needed – other aspiring citizens have no access to the legal advice and help needed to take this first step – but you can help!
OneJustice is in the running for a $10,000 grant through the Chase Community Giving program. But time is running out! VOTING CLOSES THIS WEDNESDAY – and if you vote for us, we will use 100% of the grant to expand the Justice Bus trips providing immigration assistance in 2013.
Please vote today!
If you are on facebook – you can vote here.
If you are a Chase customer, you can vote through their online banking system here.
Thank you for your votes – and for supporting more aspiring citizens!