On Saturday, May 15, immigration lawyers and experts plan to offer a free virtual citizenship workshop for people living in the metro area who want to apply to become Americans.
"You’ve been here for this long. If you’re speaking English, you’ve studied the history, you’re already more than halfway to being an American, if not substantially more. You might as well take the next step," says Will McNamara, an immigration attorney with Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, who is organizing the workshop.
McNamara will also host a free citizenship information session at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 11, during which he'll explain the benefits for immigrants when they gain citizenship...and just who is eligible to apply.
"In my presentation, the top two points are the right to vote and the protection from deportation. I kind of go back and forth on which one should be number one and which one should be number two," McNamara says. "The info night is to educate people on the citizenship process."
At the May 15 workshop, participants will be paired with immigration lawyers or Department of Justice-accredited immigration representatives who can help them fill out and review their whole citizenship application in free two-hour blocks.
"We find out what they need. Obviously, a lot of cases are perfect and ready to go, in which case I’ll print out the application, all the supporting evidence, sign it as the preparer, and mail it to the applicant to submit for themselves," McNamara says. "If there's a tax issue or a criminal-history issue, we can either refer them internally to one of our grant programs if they live in Denver or we refer them out to a low-bono [discounted] attorney from the American Immigration Lawyers Association or tax professional, as the case might be."
In 2018, 549,181 Coloradans — about 10 percent of the state's population — were immigrants; approximately 40 percent of them hailed from Mexico. India, China, Vietnam and Canada were other common countries of origin, according to the American Immigration Council. About 45 percent of these immigrants had already become naturalized citizens by 2018.
Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, which usually hosts these information sessions and citizen workshops in person, has already hosted seven virtual workshops during the pandemic in Denver, Fort Collins, Summit County and Colorado Springs.
The regional focus allows LFS to bring in local immigration experts who work in advocacy or public service. For example, this week's Denver events will include representatives from the City of Denver's Human Rights and Community Partnerships agency, Denver Public Library and the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. But despite being tagged as a "Denver" event, McNamara says that the workshop is open to anyone who lives in Colorado.
Aside from gaining a person the right to vote and losing the fear of deportation, becoming a citizen brings other major benefits. As McNamara points out, "Some people have already been here for twenty years and just want to go back to their home country for more than six months and visit family and not have to worry about the visa process."
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