NaturalizeNY, a New State Program, Unveiled

New York State Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, announcing the state's new NaturalizeNY initiative (Photo by Yeo Ram Choi for Voices of NY)

New York State Secretary of State Rossana Rosado announced the state’s new NaturalizeNY initiative (Photo by Yeo Ram Choi for Voices of NY)

New York State Secretary of State Rossana Rosado on Wednesday, July 13 announced a new statewide initiative, NaturalizeNY, aimed at encouraging immigrants in the state who are eligible to apply to become U.S. citizens.

The initiative, billed as the first public-private partnership of its kind in the nation, features as its lynchpin the introduction of a lottery and drawing through which 2,000 applicants – whose incomes exceed the level that qualifies them for a waiver of application fees of more than $700 – would have their fees paid for by the program. New York State, The RobinHood Foundation and the New York Community Trust are contributing $1.25 million to NaturalizeNY to support this effort. There are many working families with incomes just above the waiver threshold, Rosado said, for whom “the fee is still a barrier.”

Rosado and others spoke at a briefing held at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism to unveil the program. CUNY J School Associate Dean Andrew Mendelson introduced Rosado.

Rosado noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “steadfast support and commitment to New York’s immigrant community is powerful,” adding that the Office for New Americans which he established in 2013 has already assisted more than 120,000 new Americans, “helping to remove obstacles to their economic success.”

The program will be administered by the Office for New Americans with academic collaborators, including the Immigration Policy Lab at Stanford University, George Mason University and the University of Albany, whose researchers will be assessing the effectiveness of the program’s various components.

Patricia Jenny, vice president for grants at the New York Community Trust, said that the Trust’s “central mission is to make this city a welcoming and accessible place for all of our residents to live work and play.” To that end, NYCT has invested millions of dollars in programs for new citizens that help newcomers find their way.

The academic collaborators, Jenny noted, will conduct a randomized trial to assess whether outreach and legal assistance actually make immigrants more likely to naturalize and whether citizenship improves their lives.

Representatives of organizations that work with immigrant communities were also in attendance and spoke at the briefing. Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation, said that this “amazing program” came at a particularly important time during this election season, when “we keep hearing how immigrants keep taking resources away and they are a burden.”

The reality, she said, “is we aren’t a burden, we bring all our talents, our culture, and the reality is this country is stronger by considering every aspect of our civic and socioeconomic life.”

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