A program that helps immigrants who are permanent legal residents become United States citizens is expanding to Suffolk County this year as part of a campaign to make the region more welcoming.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone was joined Monday by advocates from immigrant communities as well as corporate sponsors to announce the broader reach of Long Island’s Pathways to Citizenship program, which was launched two years ago in Nassau County.
“We all know we are a nation of immigrants,” Bellone said, speaking in Hauppauge to residents who hailed from different parts of the world. “We have all come from other places to come to a place where you can be and do and aspire, you know, anything that your hard work and your talent will allow you to achieve.”
The event coincided with the “Welcoming Long Island” celebration by Long Island Wins, an immigrant advocacy group based in Syosset. Communities across the country are hosting similar gatherings this week.
The program, administered by the Central American Refugee Center in Brentwood, seeks to prepare immigrants who qualify to become naturalized citizens, offering English classes and instruction to prepare for required history and civics tests.
Advocates also guide those immigrants through the citizenship application process and help some of them obtain waivers from costly application fees.
The program has been funded with grants from Citi, the multinational banking corporation, which is donating $100,000 for another year of outreach. Citi donated $245,000 toward the Long Island effort in the last two years.
Eileen Auld, community development director for Citi in the tri-state area, said “citizenship is an economic asset” that also opens doors to people in those communities.
Elise Damas, director of the Pathways initiative at CARECEN, said the corporate support has allowed the group to help more than 1,600 immigrants since the program launched in Nassau in 2014. The group has seen increased interest this year as more immigrants want to become citizens so they can vote, she said.
Other services funded through the program include financial counseling and workshops on how to start a business or buy a home.
“We are thinking of all the pieces that we need to fully integrate immigrants” into their communities, Damas said.
Galud Andrade de Cedeño, an Ecuadorean immigrant who is retired, said she was grateful for the program helping her apply and become a citizen two years ago.
“Citizenship was my objective,” said Andrade de Cedeño, of Bay Shore. “First of all, I wanted to know and understand the history of the country that gave me shelter.”
The event attracted immigrants from various parts of Latin America and rooted in countries as varied as Poland, Italy, Turkey and India.
Phramaha Suwannarat Saensupa, 39, a Buddhist monk from Bangladesh, said it seems a good idea to him for the region to be “open for everyone to come and to get the opportunity,” just as his Centereach temple welcomes anyone who seeks a place of refuge and peace.