Elected Officials, Immigrant Leaders Rally On Citizenship Day, Demand Immigrant-Friendly Policies

September 17, 2016

For more information, contact:
Fred Tsao, ICIRR, 312 332-7360 x213

Elected Officials, Immigrant Leaders Rally On Citizenship Day, Demand Immigrant-Friendly Policies

Amid Turbulent Election Season, Immigrants Strive For Full Civic Participation

(Chicago—September 17, 2016)  As the stakes for immigrant families increase amid this fall’s elections, US Senator Richard Durbin, US Rep. Mike Quigley, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, State Representative Lisa Hernandez, Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, and other dignitaries joined the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and hundreds of immigrant leaders at Chicago’s Truman College for a rally to celebrate Citizenship Day.  The event included a naturalization workshop that assisted 125 immigrants with their citizenship applicants, as well as a program highlighting immigrants who have become citizens and are looking forward to voting this fall.

Immigrant communities are the fastest growing electoral group in the US, with 800,000 Latinos turning 18 every year and 8.8 million green card holders eligible for US citizenship across the country (including 370,000 in Illinois).  Already motivated to engage in their new homeland, Illinois immigrants are seeking the full participation that citizenship provides. Applications for citizenship in the Chicago district (covering most of Illinois) increased 14.7% between April-June 2015 to April-June 2016.  Nationwide naturalization applications rose 32.1% between those periods.

“Immigrants see what is happening in our national political conversation, and want to raise our own voices,” said Lawrence Benito, ICIRR’s chief executive officer.  “Citizenship and the right to vote provide one of the most important vehicles for us to call on candidates and elected officials to treat us with dignity and respect.”

“As the son of an immigrant, I know how important it is for our country to welcome newcomers, and for newcomers to become US citizens,” said US Senator Richard Durbin.  “I look forward to continuing to work with ICIRR and other allies to ensure that our nation celebrates new citizens and honors immigrant families and communities.”

Immigrants want the increased power they have as citizens—and voters—to win policy changes that will improve their lives.  “I became a citizen so that I could gain a stronger voice for myself and my community,” said Karla Pineda, organizer for the Interfaith Leadership Project of Cicero, Berwyn, and Stickney.  “Citizenship has given me more power and enabled me to engage at all levels of government to work for better policies.”

On the federal level, the outcome of the presidential and Congressional races could set the stage for a renewed push for immigration reform—or for harsher policies that will disrupt families, workplaces, and communities and discriminate against religious and nationality groups.  On the state level, the budget impasse continues to harm immigrant communities despite the stopgap budget approved in June. Immigrant services funding remains tied up, limiting the ability of community organizations to provide help with citizenship and immigration cases, interpretation services, and support for other vital needs.  In particular, the impasse interrupted the New Americans Initiative (NAI), a partnership between ICIRR and the Illinois Department of Human Services that had provided resources for citizenship workshops, civics education, and community outreach. 

“Our state has a long history of helping immigrants adjust to life in this country and become US citizens through the New Americans Initiative,” said State Representative Lisa Hernandez.  “I will work to ensure that immigrants across the state get the assistance they need as they move forward with their new lives.”

The naturalization workshop pooled the resources of 21 partner organizations (listed below), relying heavily on volunteers, including lawyers, community leaders, and many immigrants who themselves got assistance with their own citizenship applications at a workshop.  All of these individuals have devoted countless hours to completing and reviewing applications and ensuring that this and other workshops run smoothly.

“Good citizenship involves not just going through the naturalization process, but more fully engaging in the community,” said Benito.  “I’m proud of all of our volunteers, and hope that they will continue their work to empower more immigrants to become new citizens.”

Key Participating Organizations: Chinese Mutual Aid Association, Erie Neighborhood House, Family Focus-Aurora, Hanul Family Alliance, Indo-American Center, Instituto Del Progreso Latino, Korean American Community Services, PASO (West Suburban Action Project), Red Mexicana

Event partners: American Immigration Lawyers Association--Greater Chicago Chapter, Arab American Family Services, Casa Michoacan, Centro Romero, City Colleges of Chicago (Truman College), Consulate General of Ecuador, Consulate General of Mexico, Office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, SEIU Local 1, UNITE HERE, Univision

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is a statewide coalition of more than 130 organizations dedicated to promoting the rights of immigrants and refugees to full and equal participation in the civic, cultural, social, and political life of our diverse society. For more information, visit www.icirr.org.


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