Volume 19 Issue 47 | April 6 - 12, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Dong Yang of the Chinatown Manpower Project, right, helped the Cheng family fill out an immigration application at the Chinatown YMCA Saturday.

With costs rising, immigrants get free citizenship help

By Brooke Edwards

With the price to apply for citizenship on the rise yet again, the Chinatown YMCA hosted a five-hour Immigration Assistance Day on Saturday. Over 100 immigrants got help completing the citizenship application and free legal advice from volunteer lawyers and paralegals.

The event was sponsored by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and CUNY, the Chinatown Manpower Project and MetroPlus.

In June, the price to apply for citizenship will go up nearly 70 percent, jumping from $400 per application to $675.

“The fees have been rising a lot in recent years,” explained Jimmie Yan, immigration expert with Stringer’s office, “partly due to the [Bush] administration putting the burden on the applicant rather than expanding appropriation in the budget.” Yan said his office was anxious to help as many immigrants as possible get their applications filed before the fee hike. They also wanted to help aspiring citizens avoid paying costly legal fees, in light of recent scams involving immigration lawyers.

“Our office has worked very hard on immigration rights since I became president,” Stringer told Downtown Express. “We want to make sure everyone can become a part of this great country,” equating the YMCA to “our modern version of people coming through Ellis Island.”

With the help of a Chinese and Spanish translator, Stringer joked with the applicants, “I look forward to seeing you in a few years voting for me. Remember, Scott Stringer.”

The crowd at the Chinatown YMCA’s Hester St. site was split pretty evenly between Asian and Latino immigrants. Some came dressed in business attire, while others were casual.

One senior Latino couple came just after the doors opened. They have lived in the United States for 20 years, and wanted to finally become citizens. They held hands as they went through the application process together.

Another applicant was a timid but smiling Joana Caraballo, 28, who immigrated from Mexico 15 years ago with her mother and brother. She is the first in her family to seek citizenship, applying, she said, “So I can go to college.” Caraballo read about the event in a Spanish language newspaper, and sat with her completed application in hand, waiting to file.

Jimmy Xie was alone in the back row of the auditorium. He was dressed in a dark suit, and sat reading and rereading his application.

Xie said through a translator that he has lived in the U.S. for three years and was very excited to become a citizen. He said the process that day had been smooth so far, as he waited for his number to be called.

In addition to local native language papers, the YMCA also relied heavily for promotion on flyers around neighborhoods with high immigrant populations, said David Kaplan, executive director of the Chinatown YMCA. They also tried to get the word out ahead of time that applicants were to come with the necessary documentation, including green cards, identification and proof of residency.

While the event was focused on applications for citizenship, there was also help for those looking to get green cards or other immigration assistance as time allowed.

Jack Lund, president and C.E.O. of the YMCA of Greater New York, said, “For over 150 years we’ve been a destination for immigration services,” saying the YMCA taught language classes on Ellis Island. Lund said they definitely plan to continue these events in the future, hopefully hosting one every three months or so.

This is the third such event Stringer’s office has held. He said they plan to continue the Immigration Assistance Days, alternating between Chinatown and Harlem.

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