CUNY Citizenship Now! provides free, high quality, and confidential immigration law services to help individuals and families on their path to U.S. citizenship. Our attorneys and paralegals offer one-on-one consultations to assess participants’ eligibility for legal benefits and assist them in applying when qualified. We also coordinate community, educational, and volunteer initiatives to help expand opportunities for New York City’s immigrant population.
In the 1970s, a young Queens College student was busy honing his leadership style and commitment to inclusion by spearheading voter registration efforts on campus. Thousands of miles away, a law student was developing his own skills with a neighborhood organization that offered immigration legal services to his fellow Angelinos.
Fast forward 25 years later to 1996. Nearly half of CUNY students are foreign-born. Jay Hershenson, that young student leader, was now CUNY’s Senior Vice Chancellor. Across town at Hostos Community College, Professor Allan Wernick, that former law student, now ran a legal services center for immigrants and women. It troubled them both that many CUNY students were green card holders who could not vote.
From their first conversation, Hershenson and Wernick agreed that with its historical commitment to New York City’s immigrant population, CUNY was well-positioned to offer students free, high-quality immigration assistance.
In 1997, CUNY officially launched the Citizenship and Immigration Project, which soon became known as Citizenship Now! By the end of 1997, staff and volunteers had held application assistance events on every CUNY campus.
In the decade that followed, Citizenship Now! put down roots in each of the five boroughs beginning with City College in Manhattan in 1998, to Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn in 2009.
Strong partnerships have been indispensable to our growth as city, state and federal government endorsements allowed Citizenship Now! to expand its reach to faculty, staff, friends, family and neighbors. Over the years, Haitian immigrants with Temporary Protected Status, parents of public school children, victims of fraud, young undocumented youth, and innumerable green card holders were assisted with immigration matters and services, including fee waivers for indigent citizenship applicants.
Volunteers have always formed the backbone of Citizenship Now! and in 2006 a partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs saw the launch of the NYC/CUNY Citizenship Now! Volunteer Corps.
Corporate partners have also distinguished themselves by their volunteer commitment. Each year, these partners, including Daily News staffers, take part in the Daily News/CUNY Immigration Call-In event answering thousands of immigration questions.
Back in 1997, few could have imagined what we would accomplish together. Seventeen years later, through six full-time immigration centers and 30 part-time centers at the offices of New York City Council members, and through events, partnerships, sponsorships, alliances and networks we remain true to our initial commitment. Our work has helped more than 100,000 New Yorkers get on the path to U.S. citizenship, and we have provided legal information and referrals to another 120,000 callers at our annual CUNY/Daily News Call-In events.