New York State aims to help thousands of immigrants become citizens through grants to organizations that help prepare those who qualify for naturalization and monetary aid to cover application fees.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo launched the NaturalizeNY initiative on Thursday as a partnership with corporations and foundations who believe in the promise of citizenship.
Up to 2,000 immigrants will benefit from a lottery to pay fees in filing naturalization applications, which currently costs $680 per person. Part of the effort will be coordinated through opportunity centers of the state’s Office for New Americans, a statewide network with four locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Cuomo said it “makes sense on every level” for immigrants to seek citizenship as he stressed the immigrant heritage of New York and in his family.
“Immigration is our strength,” said Cuomo, speaking at the program’s launch at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. “That is our renewal. That is our core. That is our essence. That is our fabric. That’s who we are. I am an immigrant; my father was an immigrant; he came from an immigrant. Who is not an immigrant? Only a Native American is not an immigrant. Everybody else is an immigrant, and we are proud of it.”
The initiative will fund English and citizenship classes and support nonprofits that help immigrants file applications.
Patrick Young, program director of the Central American Refugee Center, an advocacy group in Hempstead and Brentwood, said his organization will receive $350,000 this year, and expects matching amounts the next two years, to host those programs on Long Island.
Young said the effort “will get people to understand that New York State sees immigrants as an important part of the community and also sees citizenship as an important step” to become invested in their adopted communities. “They were part of the huddled masses, and now they will be part of the middle classes.”