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Bostonians Claim Their Rights and Gain Opportunity on Citizenship Day

By Michael Givens , Sep. 17, 2018
David Ortiz is a proud immigrant

David Ortiz is a proud immigrant

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Monday, September 17th is Constitution Day, also known as National Citizenship Day, a holiday celebrating the signing of the U.S. Constitution and those who have become citizens. A federal holiday, Constitution Day is a prelude to the 5th Annual Citizenship Day in Boston on September 30th. With just a few weeks left, it’s not too late to join in and support a nonprofit’s plan to provide assistance to immigrants looking to apply to become United States citizens.

“Over 300 volunteers will help more than 400 immigrants to apply for citizenship at the Reggie Lewis Track Center,” said Veronica Serrato, executive director of Project Citizenship, a Boston-based nonprofit providing citizenship application assistance for immigrants.

Project Citizenship is co-hosting Citizenship Day in Boston with the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement (MOIA). Eastern Bank is a proud partner of this year’s event and will have volunteers on hand throughout the day and encourage more to come and support this drive.

According to Peter Haskin, a citizenship coordinator with Project Citizenship, there is a great need for the services offered by the nonprofit.

“We estimate that there are 48,000 immigrants living in Boston who are now eligible for U.S. citizenship,” Haskin said. “Although immigrants are eligible for citizenship after five years with a green card, our average client has a green card for 11 years due to the many obstacles and barriers making U.S. citizenship so difficult to obtain.”

Often, the primary obstacles are language barriers, a lack of access to (or knowledge of) legal assistance, and fear of deportation. The importance of a citizenship drive isn’t lost on those receiving the services. Take, for example, Palmesois, a Haitian immigrant who attended a Citizenship Day drive a few years back. He arrived at the venue ecstatic about the idea of becoming a citizen. And thanks to the work of the volunteers, he became a citizen at the age of 103 and was excited to finally be able to vote!

Serrato also shared the story of Jairo, a Spanish-speaking immigrant who faced numerous barriers to citizenship because he spoke no English and is legally blind. After many years of effort and with the help of Project Citizenship and MOIA, he was finally able to become a citizen. Serrato added that immigrants like Palmesois and Jairo contribute so much to the United States and its prosperity.

“Citizenship Day is a wonderful moment for the city of Boston to stop and appreciate the spectacular contribution of immigrants to the city in the form of revenue, talent, patents, skills, energy, and vitality that has made Boston a global city,” she said. “For the immigrant community, it means that hundreds of trained volunteers are embracing them and committed to assisting them to achieve U.S. citizenship—a dream for so many.”

An Le, a spokesperson for MOIA, said that the last five years have been quite successful. “Thanks to this partnership, more than 1,000 eligible residents have received assistance with their citizenship application for free,” he said.

“We have a small staff of five that plans and manages these annual events as well as workshops throughout the year,” Serrato said. “We are always in need of talented graphic designers, Salesforce and data management, volunteer management, and marketing skills.”

Haskin summed up the powerful impact of Citizenship Day.

“The naturalization process can be a lengthy, difficult, and intimidating one,” he said. “This is to say nothing of the linguistic and financial barriers to citizenship that [immigrants] must overcome. Our clients do all this just to have the same political rights that many of us born in this country take for granted. I admire their bravery and resilience.”

The Project Citizenship drive will take place on Sunday, September 30th with workshops at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m. at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury. Learn more about the great work of Project Citizenship.

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