600 Immigrants Receive Free Counseling at Citizenship Now

Volunteers assisted Dominican applicant Alberto Jorge (right) and his son Jorge Alberto (left). (Photo by Pablo Ayerra via El Diario)

Latino residents who submitted their papers to obtain U.S. citizenship this past weekend recommended the free counseling service Citizenship Now! to anyone who still has not applied.

Alberto Jorge and Jorge Alberto are father and son, both of them Dominican U.S. residents living in the Bronx. On Saturday, June 30, they went to the annual Citizenship Now! event, in its 16th year, to apply for citizenship.

This was the program’s largest event of the year, as the organizers hold smaller ones twice a month. In addition, the Citizenship Now! organization offers year-round legal counseling at their offices, as well as test preparation and resources for undocumented immigrants.

“Many people do not come here because they think it is hard, but it is actually very easy and pleasant,” said Alberto Jorge, 62, who has lived in New York for 38 years. Now that he will be adjusting his status, he thought that the free service offered by the City University of New York (CUNY) may help him apply for citizenship.

His son Jorge Alberto, 29, is the oldest of three siblings and the only one of them born in Santo Domingo. “I have U.S. residency, but I would rather apply for citizenship because I have six children and it is best to have everything in order. Hopefully, it will all go smoothly,” he said.

Another 600 people – out of 800 who signed up – attended the event, most of them Latinos, with a high percentage of Dominican applicants.

Volunteers filled out the forms in front of the applicants, as the slightest error may lead to an application being denied.

“They need to understand that we are not the authorities. We are just counselors and, because of that, they need to give us all the details. When a person starts the citizenship process, even the smallest infraction may end up harming them,” said Frida, a teacher who has volunteered for years.

A large number of the volunteers, who were in charge of translating and offering guidance, were Hispanic. Also, supervising attorneys helped out with more complicated individual cases.

The atmosphere on the fourth floor of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in Midtown West, was truly exciting, with hundreds of volunteers running about, assisting people of all colors and nationalities who aspire to become U.S. citizens.

By the end of the day, Jorge Alberto left the premises with an envelope with all his completed forms under his arm and a smile on his face. The next and last step was to send it by mail. “I am very grateful. It was very simple,” he said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped by the event and said that New York will provide all the necessary resources to help immigrants. For his part, Allan Wernick, director of Citizenship Now!, stated that the rules to obtain citizenship remain the same even under the Trump administration because citizenship is a federal matter.

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