NEW YORK, NY- November 19, 2014 – In celebration of International Education Week, Baruch College, in partnership with CUNY Citizenship Now, invited students, faculty, staff and community members to receive free assistance with U.S. citizenship applications today inside the Vertical Campus Building.
Naturalization Day, which has been held at Baruch over the last five years, was co-sponsored by International Student Service Center (ISSC), NYC Council Member Rosie Mendez, NALEO and the New Americans Campaign. Participants had to be at least 18 years of age, and reside in the United States for 5 years (or 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen).
Jamaican immigrant Kaydian Allwood, 28, who now lives in the Bronx, heard about the event through social media. “I’ve been waiting to do this, but because of my disposition, I was afraid to do this on my own. I didn’t see a program out there to assist me.” She felt encouraged to apply because of CUNY’s assistance with the process.
Attorneys offered one-on-one consultations to assess participants’ eligibility for legal benefits, checked documents needed, and helped answer questions. “For many people, the citizenship process is really the end of a long, complicated journey and it’s really rewarding to be able to help people through the process and to a new beginning,” says Tamara Bloom, CUNY Citizenship Now’s Legal Coordinator.
Brooklyn resident Che Ragoonanan, 28 from Trinidad, said the application process was really welcoming, helpful and convenient. “[Citizenship] is going to help me get a job, travel more to see my family, and not have a problem being here,” he said.
CUNY Citizenship Now was established in 1997 under the leadership of Baruch College professor and immigration attorney Allan Wernick, to address the need for free citizenship and immigration services among CUNY’s foreign-born students, faculty and staff. “CUNY Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations Jay Hershenson approached me with this idea, as it was originally started to help our students become citizens,” says Wernick.
Since then, the organization has become the country’s largest university-based citizenship and immigration law service provider, operating services at city council offices at over 30 locations throughout New York City. More than 220,000 people have received services since its opening, and Wernick says Baruch has hosted numerous events to train volunteers and assist with applications for citizenship and for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. “We have made a special effort to help the CUNY family,” he explained.
What sets them apart from other immigration organizations, says Bloom, is the partnership with the university, which is very ingrained in the community and helps establish relationships with people. “Many don’t realize that this is a service the university provides,” she says. “And because the city and CUNY is so diverse, it’s a natural bridge between city residents and our services.”
“It’s 100% free,” Wernick points out, “and people leave here with a complete application, photographs and booklet with a list of services for how to prepare for the civics test and language exam.”
The decision to become a citizen and go through the process is not an easy one. Rosa Kelley, Director of the International Student Service Center, and an immigrant from Columbia, sympathizes with what applicants are going through. “That decision to become a citizen is a huge step. It is giving up your citizenship in your home country. People have waited years and years. What motivated me was my decision to vote and to have a voice.”
“People have a lot of apprehension and questions, and they want to be careful,” agrees Bloom. “They want to use their money to pay for the application fee rather than for legal fees.” The free service CUNY Citizenship Now offers is a major consideration for many. And Bloom points out that many students also qualify for a free waiver of the application fee (normally $680) to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Diana Arias, 20, a Baruch junior majoring in Public Affairs is one such student taking advantage of the free waiver option. Arias’ family immigrated to America from Ecuador when she was six and now resides in Woodside, Queens. “I would have applied earlier, but it’s really expensive. And this is really convenient that they come here,” she said. “This is the first step. I know it’s a long process, but at least I’m getting help.”
About Baruch College:
Baruch College is a senior college in the City University of New York (CUNY) with a total enrollment of more than 17,000 students, who represent 160 countries and speak more than 100 languages. Ranked among the top 15% of U.S. colleges and the No. 4 public regional university, Baruch College is regularly recognized as among the most ethnically diverse colleges in the country. As a public institution with a tradition of academic excellence, Baruch College offers accessibility and opportunity for students from every corner of New York City and from around the world. For more about Baruch College, go to http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/.