LATINO PERSPECTIVE-It’s not a coincidence that the Obama administration has chosen Los Angeles as the first city to support the President’s effort to encourage qualified permanent residents to become U.S. citizens.
Obama administration officials met here this past Friday with Mayor Eric Garcetti, local nonprofits and business owners to discuss ways to make this happen.
The meeting was part of a multi-city tour by the White House’s Task Force on New Americans, that the administration previewed in a call with reporters Thursday.
“To launch forward we must return to our core values as Americans and even in these tough times strive to embrace our role as a nation of immigrants, a nation of dreamers, a nation of hope,” Mayor Garcetti said on Twitter about the meeting, which was closed to the public.
In recent years, California has moved repeatedly to provide rights, benefits and protections to immigrants in the country illegally, including in-state tuition, driver’s licenses, rules to limit deportations and state-funded healthcare for children.
Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose have signed on to participate in the task force, as have cities in 25 other states.
Senior Deputy Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement Julie Chavez Rodriguez said the meeting will allow federal officials and members of Garcetti’s staff to coordinate with local leaders in business, nonprofit and community organizations. It also focused on how the federal government can make it easier for new citizens to integrate into life as Americans, according to the White House.
“Starting in California is a perfect kickoff from our perspective,” Chavez said.
Chavez also praised several California efforts, including the partnership between U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Los Angeles Public Library system to create “citizenship corners” at every branch and hold citizenship classes, increased funding for citizenship and naturalization services by the Napa Valley Community Foundation, and targeting of individuals eligible for naturalization and connecting them with resources in San Francisco.
Garcetti said that Step Forward LA, a program created in 2015 that helps people determine whether they are eligible to become citizens and prepares them for the citizenship test, has helped 45,000 people.
There are an estimated 350,000 legal permanent residents in Los Angeles alone who are eligible to apply for citizenship but haven’t. In the greater area, the number soars to 750,000. “This isn’t an abstraction for us. It isn’t an abstraction for me,” Garcetti said. The biggest hurdle is the cost; currently the application fee is $595 (Add to that a $85 biometric fee for a total of $680.)
Joining the White House’s effort is former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela (photo above), who became a U.S. citizen in July. He said he wants people to know there are resources available to assist people starting the process and to help integrate new citizens. “I am excited to vote in my first presidential election,” he said.
(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader who serves as Vice Chair of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition and sits on the board of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council representing Larchmont Village. He was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected]) Photo: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.