“Living in our city means that you can make a home, and a life, no matter where you come from or what language you speak at home. And there are so many rights and advantages of citizenship: more job opportunities, better wages, the ability to vote, and so much more. In L.A., hundreds of thousands of our family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers are waiting for that better life.” - Mayor Eric Garcetti
Benefits of Citizenship
Some of the benefits of citizenship include the ability to petition for family members, automatic citizenship for Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) children under 18, the right to vote, full civil and political privileges such as the right to run for public elected office, relief from fear of deportation, full access to government jobs and assistance, retention of retirement income (without U.S. residence requirements), and ease of travel abroad.
Citizenship also provides a powerful platform for asset building and economic and social cohesion. Naturalized citizens earn 45% more than non-citizen immigrants. Immigrants at the same educational and English proficiency levels earn close to 11% more soon after they become U.S. citizens. In Los Angeles, the increase in earnings for immigrants upon naturalization is estimated to be 11-15%, which translates to somewhere between $2,700 and $3,700 of additional income annually.
The economic benefits of citizenship extend beyond naturalized individuals, and stimulate growth in the U.S. economy as a whole. The increase in earnings of immigrants who otherwise would not have naturalized is estimated to add between $1.6 and $2.8 billion over ten years to the local economy in Los Angeles.
Barriers to Naturalization
Despite the individual and community benefits of citizenship, over 8.8 million eligible LPRs, 52% of whom are low-income, have not taken this final step toward full participation in our society. Roughly one-third of immigrants eligible to naturalize fail to do so because of various obstacles, including:
- High upfront costs of citizenship applications: the naturalization fee and biometrics fees add up to about $700. Additional costs may include citizenship classes, ESL classes, transportation to and from classes, attorney fees for more complex cases, etc.
- Lack of English proficiency: the proportion of immigrant-headed households in which no person over 13 speaks English only, or very well – is relatively high at 34% in Los Angeles county
- Lack of time to prepare for citizenship exam and/or improve English skills
- Lack of knowledge about the naturalization process
MOIA’s Citizenship Initiatives and Campaigns
The above challenges end up prohibiting many low-income immigrants from initiating and/or completing the citizenship process. The City of Los Angeles is committed to bridging the resource and information gap that LPRs encounter in the naturalization process by serving as a convener and leveraging resources in partnership with community stakeholders to make citizenship a reality for all eligible Angelenos.
The following is a list of initiatives and campaigns that MOIA has either led or forwarded with stakeholders to actualize citizenship for eligible Angelenos.
The Step Forward LA initiative was originally introduced in February 2015 to coordinate city services and resources directed to assist thousands of Angelenos who could be eligible for immigration relief under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Over the course of the past couple of years, this vision has expanded to create opportunities and raise awareness for how to engage the more than 755,000 lawful permanent residents eligible for citizenship. Step Forward LA aims to unify government, non-profits, educators, and businesses to reach out to 100,000 immigrants to give them a chance to step forward.
As part of the Step Forward LA initiative, MOIA has developed a website that provides a step-by-step guide to the citizenship process, and an interactive map where users can find resources — such as the library's “New Americans Initiative,” ESL and civics classes, and links to local non-profit organizations — that can help our potential U.S. citizens get on the path towards naturalization.
¡Protégete!...¡Ciudadanía Ya!, is an unprecedented community-based campaign that will educate and motivate the more than 755,000 eligible lawful permanent residents (LPRs) in Los Angeles County to apply for citizenship. The campaign brings together a multi-sector coalition of the region’s most prominent immigrant rights organizations, elected officials, philanthropic organizations, and Spanish-language media companies. Born out of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Step Forward LA initiative, the coalition has launched a coordinated effort to inform eligible LPRs about the citizenship process and expand access to trustworthy naturalization services.
Since the November 10, 2015 launch, the coalition has reached more than 20,000 people through the campaign hotline, conducted roughly 200 citizenship workshops and, with the help of its Spanish-language media partners, has reached upwards of 4 million viewers, listeners and readers.
The campaign has launched several bold initiatives in 2016 that will help expand its scale. Our television partners have come together to develop a TV campaign that features each station’s anchors/deejays/talent with a unified message to urge their viewers to become citizens.
In April 2016, a new citizenship campaign for the Asian American community was launched called “Endless Possibilities. Citizenship Now!” Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA), community-based organizations, and other local government agencies partnered together for an unprecedented campaign for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community to increase the number of Asian American immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship.
In Los Angeles County, over 300,000 Asian American immigrants are currently lawful permanent residents who are eligible to naturalize and become U.S. citizens. Community-based organizations serving the Asian American community will receive funding and support to process citizenship applications. In addition, Asian ethnic media will be invited to join the effort as official campaign partners, to promote the benefits of citizenship.
The campaign is made possible through funding and support from the California Community Foundation in an effort to break down the myths and barriers preventing more L.A. County residents from applying.
In September 2014, MOIA launched “Cities for Citizenship,” a multi-city initiative led by Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago to encourage and support LPRs to complete the citizenship process. Citi Community Development Bank has provided a total of $1.2 million in funding for this national effort.
Cities for Citizenship opens the door to the benefits of full citizenship to thousands of individuals locally who might not otherwise get the necessary information and assistance to initiate and follow through with the naturalization process. Specifically, Cities for Citizenship alleviates some of the costs associated with preparing for the citizenship exam for low-income LPRs by providing them with citizenship classes at no cost, legal support, and financial resources and information to pay for the application and biometrics fees. We plan to reach 3,000 LPRs with this effort.
The City of Los Angeles recognizes the significant value of embedding financial capability into its citizenship infrastructure. For the hundreds of thousands of low-income LPRs in the city, obtaining a new national identity also provides the opportunity to develop a new financial identity. Cities for citizenship provides low-income LPR’s with the necessary tools to make informed financial decisions and thrive economically.
In partnership with the L.A. Public Library and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there are currently Citizenship Corners in each of the city’s 72 branches and the Central Library, where residents can access tools — sample test materials, instructional DVDs, and more — to assist them as they work through the naturalization process. Our citizenship information corners have trained librarians who can share a schedule of citizenship workshops. In April 2015, the L.A. Public Library also received a National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the most prestigious award for libraries and museums in the country and were recognized for their citizenship work.
On January 18, 2018, Mayor Eric Garcetti joined library staff at the Los Angeles Central Library to announce the roll out of the New Americans Initiative. The initiative expands services offered by LAPL Citizenship Corners, which have already assisted 46,000 Angelenos in all 73 branch libraries across the city. At the outset, four branches — Central, Junipero Serra, Pacoima, and Wilmington — will have New Americans Centers, where dedicated spaces and specially-trained, Department of Justice-accredited library employees will offer guidance on navigating the entire naturalization process. Additional centers will be opened later this year at the Benjamin Franklin and Pio Pico-Koreatown branches. For more information about the initiative please visit the Los Angeles Public Library website here.
Formerly known as Cities United for Immigration Action, Cities for Action offers a unique space where mayors and municipalities can exchange ideas and information about their work on local immigrant integration programs, and discuss how best to advocate together for national immigration reform. The coalition launched in December 2014 with 25 members at a meeting convened by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at Gracie Mansion in New York City. It has since grown to include nearly 100 cities and counties through recruitment efforts to expand and diversify membership, and through outreach for actions including amici briefs filed in the district and appeals courts.
Since its launch in December 2014, Cities for Action has already helped drive the national conversation on common sense immigration reform. The coalition has brought together nearly 100 mayors and municipalities to strongly defend the President’s executive action through amicus briefs and days of action across the country, share best practices on immigrant integration, and engage members of Congress on key issues of reform.