Immigrants hoping to become naturalized are getting a boost from a series of workshops around the Bay Area in which volunteers and lawyers help legal, permanent residents apply for U.S. citizenship.
The events are co-hosted by the International Institute of the Bay Area, an organization that provides free or low-cost immigration legal services, and the Peninsula workshops are offered in partnership with the San Mateo County Human Services Agency.
If the turnout at a recent workshop in Daly City is any indication, demand for those services on the Peninsula is high. Of the hundreds of hopeful applicants who showed up, many heard about the event due to extensive outreach by the Human Services Agency, which sent invitations to roughly 3,000 of its San Mateo County clients.
While the idea of helping low-income recipients of public benefits to become citizens might be controversial in some quarters, San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier said that for many residents, citizenship can lead to better job prospects, higher wages and less dependency on social programs.
Sheryl Munoz-Bergman, director of programs for the International Institute, said the citizenship events could attract some immigrants who might otherwise be victimized by businesses that purport to offer immigration legal services but instead prey upon their clients.
In the Latino community, said Munoz-Bergman, there have been problems with notary publics — called “notarios” in Spanish — misrepresenting themselves as immigration attorneys and charging customers exorbitant fees in exchange for bad advice that can get them in legal trouble and delay their citizenship applications.
“By the time some people make it into our office, they’ve already been fleeced and are in a worse situation than they were before they saw the notario,” Munoz-Bergman said.
The applicants at the Daly City event represented a wide variety of nationalities.
Originally from Yemen, Moad Alabsy and his wife, Muna, said they have lived in the U.S. for eight and two years, respectively. Moad Alabsy, a driver for both Uber and a medical transportation company, said he was hopeful the International Institute volunteers would make it easier for him to navigate the application process.
Another applicant was Burma-born Ma Than Than Win, who was told she would have to wait one more year before submitting her application for citizenship. Ma Than Than Win, who has lived in the U.S. for five years, said she is majoring in social science at City College of San Francisco because she wants to help people, but she worries that her lack of English proficiency might be a hindrance.
Additional workshops will be held today in Napa, April 25 in Fremont; May 12 in Redwood City and May 16 in San Francisco.
Some low-income applicants may qualify for a waiver of the $680 application fee. To request a waiver, applicants must provide a benefits letter in English or their most recent pay stubs and 2014 income tax records.
All applicants should also bring their green card, Social Security card and any passports issued after they obtained their green cards. Applicants should also provide family information, certificates of disposition for all arrests, their home address, job history, and information about any trips taken outside the U.S. over the past five years.
Pre-registration is required for all workshops except those held in San Francisco. For locations, times and registration, call (650) 780-7530 or visit www.iibayarea.org/workshops.