Language and Costs Hinder Path to Citizenship

Mónica Castro (left), María Campos (middle), and Nefry Guerrero (right) aspire for citizenship. (Photo by Zaira Cortés via El Diario-La Prensa)

Mónica Castro (left), María Campos (middle), and Nefry Guerrero (right) aspire to become citizens. (Photo by Zaira Cortés via El Diario-La Prensa)

Limited English proficiency and an expensive exam are the major obstacles faced by legal residents who want to become citizens, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).

Ana Almanzar, the program manager for NALEO’s New York office, explained that the “Ya es Hora” campaign holds forums with free consultations in all five boroughs. She said that language barriers and the high cost of the U.S. citizenship test are the most common stumbling blocks for immigrants. However, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers various alternatives.

USCIS provides the test in Spanish to people 55 and older who have been legal residents for more than 15 years.

“My mom has been a legal resident for 21 years and didn’t know enough English. That was the main problem that kept her from becoming a citizen,” said Nefry Guerrero, 19. “In a few months she’s going to take the test in Spanish. She’s preparing for this important step in her life.”

Guerrero, who became a legal resident when she was just a few months old, pointed out that until a short while ago, she wasn’t old enough to apply for the exam.

“I’m not afraid of the questions as much as the expensive cost of $680, but citizenship is a ticket to better opportunities,” she said.

City councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, NALEO, and other organizations that are part of the “Ya es Hora” campaign will hold a forum with free consultations on Saturday, June 15, at P.S. 19, located at 98-02 Roosevelt Avenue, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

“The campaign seeks to overcome misinformation,” emphasized Almanzar. “We have cases where spouses of citizens have been legal residents for three years and qualify for citizenship, but they wait for five years because they don’t know the USCIS rules.”

María Campos, a 23-year-old resident of Corona, Queens, and originally from Ecuador, said that in November, she will have lived in the U.S. long enough to take the citizenship test.

“I’m attending the forums so I can be prepared. The questions are difficult and I need help. I have my taxes in order for when the time comes,” she said.

NALEO estimates that more than 8 million people across the U.S. are eligible for citizenship, and nearly 900,000 live in New York State.

Last year, around 100 people received free consultations during the forum at P.S. 19. Forty-five percent filled out applications for the exam. More are expected to attend this year.

USCIS exempts certain people from paying: those who are unemployed, have accumulated debt after the death of a close relative, or receive public assistance. If you need help, come to the forum at P.S. 19 with documents that prove your economic situation.

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