The African Leadership Group enlisted the services of immigration lawyers to host a forum on immigration issues April 18 for community members with questions about becoming a U.S. citizen. About 40 people participated.
ALG asked Daniel Okwena, an immigration attorney and a member of ALG’s Legal and Policy Committee to share what he saw as the highlights of the forum. Here are his reflections.
ALG: The forum focused on three major topics: The benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen; things to consider before applying for citizenship; how and when to apply for citizenship. What were the major takeaways on each of those three topics?
What are the benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen?
- Less worry: no possibility of deportation, no longer need to renew your Green Card which saves cost as well, freedom to travel out of the U.S. for as long as you want.
- More rights: ability to vote in all elections, ability to be voted for, and entitlement to a U.S. passport. Citizenship also provides access to more federal assistance, entitles you to more job opportunities, etc.
- Increases the category of family member you can petition for to migrate to the U.S. to live with you.
Things to consider before applying for citizenship:
- Eligibility: Have Green Card for required period, show good moral character for at least five years preceding the application, meet the requirements of physical presence and continuous residence.
- Demonstrate ability to read, write and speak basic English, as well as knowledge of the fundamentals of U.S. government and history.
How to apply for citizenship (naturalization process):
- Submit the application form called N-400 to the USCIS and pay a filing Fee of $725 but a fee waiver is available for certain individuals who are indigent.
- Submit with your application documents which include copies of your Green Card, international passport, marriage/divorce certificates, tax returns, criminal records, etc.
- Attend a biometrics appointment which enables the government to run a background check.
- There is a wait time of between 6 to 18 months in most USCIS offices before the interview.
- Attend an in-person interview scheduled at USCIS Office in Centennial.
- If the interview is successful, be administered the Oath of Allegiance or be scheduled for a Ceremony at a later date when the Oath will be administered.
ALG: What other topics came up during the forum?
Okwena: The forum went beyond the perimeters of citizenship. Participants were welcome to ask whatever immigration question they had, ranging from delays in the adjudication of immigration benefits, dual citizenship, tourist and student visas, refugee and asylum claims, etc.
ALG: What were community participants most interested in learning about?
Okwena: They were most interested in learning about benefits of becoming U.S. citizens, and the new vistas it opens for them.
ALG: What kind of feedback did you receive after the forum about how useful it was?
Okwena: The participants cherished the opportunity to talk about the specifics of their cases in a private session with an immigration attorney at no cost. They found this one-on-one session very useful as they were able to speak confidentially with the attorneys, but most importantly get answers to their questions.
The participants want the Legal and Policy Committee to host more such forums as immigration is always a hot topic
ALG: Will you be doing this again? If so, when?
Okwena: We are considering doing this again but we do not have a date scheduled yet.
ALG: Is there anything you would do differently next time?
Okwena: We would have the participants tell us in advance if they would need interpreters and what languages they speak. We would also have more attorneys depending on the number of participants who signed up.