By Ling-Mei Wong
Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposed state budget would quadruple funding for citizenship programs to $1 million. The proposed 2014 budget has not yet been passed by the Mass. House of Representatives and state Senate.
“It’s important because Massachusetts, like the country, is enriched by the people who come here,” Patrick said. “The service is way oversubscribed. With a little more money in relative terms, I think we will have a great impact.”
The proposed funding goes toward the Office for Refugees and Immigrants for the Citizenship for New Americans Program. Legal permanent residents who have low incomes are eligible to take citizenship classes. About 300,000 legal permanent residents with green cards live in Massachusetts, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“We’re thrilled the governor has increased the budget, which speaks to his commitment to new Americans,” said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition. “These resources really help tremendously to get more people in the program and help this population.”
Advocacy group Chinese Progressive Association felt the governor’s proposal was the right move. “Many people with green cards want to vote, but they are scared to naturalize because of the language requirement and English classes are expensive,” said Baolian Kuang, community organizer. “Now low-income residents can learn English and pass the citizenship test.”
The benefits of naturalization not only affect immigrants but their communities and the state as a whole. “There have been enough resource reports that say immigrants create entrepreneurship opportunities,” said Agnes Chang, resource development manager for the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians. “They create jobs. They attend our schools and universities. They revitalize our city and neighborhoods.”
As Chinatown agencies are inundated by citizenship requests, the proposed funding could make a big difference. “Citizenship training is a pertinent step in the empowerment process and civic participation for immigrants. This is especially critical in view of the possible change to immigration law in the future,” said Chau-ming Lee, executive director of the Asian American Civic Association.
The citizenship application fee is $680, which can be a significant hardship for struggling families. “Immigrants are an asset to our economy, community and the fabric of our nation,” Millona said.
This post is also available in: Chinese