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Citizenship push seeks to encourage immigrants' potential

Hofstra University, pictured on April 16, 2014, hosted

Hofstra University, pictured on April 16, 2014, hosted the "Pathways to Citizenship" initiative. Credit: Newsday / Chuck Fadely

More than 500 Long Island immigrants are in the process of becoming United States citizens as part of an initiative described as the largest in the region by members of an alliance of nonprofit, private and government institutions.

Another wave is expected to pledge allegiance to the flag over the next year, part of a second phase of the "Pathways to Citizenship" initiative announced Thursday at Hofstra University.

The partnership's aim is nothing short of seeking "to create a culture of citizenship on Long Island," said Patrick Young, program director of the Central American Refugee Center, a Hempstead nonprofit administering the program. "When people become citizens, they are making a conscious decision to commit themselves to the United States," strengthening their communities, Young said.

The Pathways to Citizenship initiative was introduced last year as an investment in a growing Long Island immigrant population that rivals those of the nation's major cities.

The effort assists legal residents in applying and preparing for the related United States history and civics test. It is not aimed at immigrants who are here illegally, and who in most cases require an act of Congress to earn legal status.

Chintu Patel shared his immigration tale at the meeting.

He recalled arriving in 1987 in Jersey City, coming from India with his parents, brother and sister. They had "just $20" for the five of them, Patel said. He studied, persevered, and launched a business.

Now a U.S. citizen, he is chief executive of Amneal Pharmaceuticals, which employs more than 3,500 people, about 1,000 of them on Long Island. Others from various nations deserve that chance, he said. "I was not born with a golden spoon," said Patel, 43. "For any country to be successful and remain number one, it's always people, people and people" that you need, and immigrants can be part of that mix.

The pathways program's first year was largely funded by a $145,000 grant for legal fees and outreach from Citi, the multinational banking corporation. The bank is providing another $100,000 for the next phase.

"We understand that citizenship is a powerful economic asset," said Pat Edwards, a Citi vice president for community development. Other partners are Bethpage Federal Credit Union, United Way and the Small Business Development Center at Farmingdale State College.

The focus on immigrants wanting to call themselves Americans is a departure from the debate about illegal immigration. Cesar E. Perales, New York's secretary of state, touted the state's backing through its Office for New Americans. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo backs the immigrant outreach, honoring his heritage as the grandson of an immigrant, Perales said.

"We shouldn't be talking about building walls . . . that nobody can get through," he said. "No, I think our governor keeps reminding everybody that we've got a statue in the harbor known as the Statue of Liberty, who welcomes all who come."

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