Volunteers Help Legal Residents Apply for Citizenship in Westbury


The Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) is a non-profit providing legal services for immigrants on Long Island. CARECEN is allied but not affiliated with Long Island Wins. As program director at CARECEN, Pat Young will occasionally report on activities that may be of interest to Long Island Wins’ followers.

Last Saturday, CARECEN kicked off the next phase of its civic engagement campaign, the recruitment of permanent residents to apply for citizenship. Until the roughly 100,000 permanent residents living in Nassau and Suffolk counties become citizens, the full voice of Long Island’s immigrants will never be heard.

Before 1980, very few immigrants lived on Long Island. Large permanent resident communities did not develop until 15 years ago. This means that our immigrant communities here are relatively new and that they do not have a tradition of transitioning to citizenship. Citizenship drives are being held in villages throughout Long Island to jump start people on the pathway to citizenship. July’s event focused on Westbury in central Nassau County.

St. Brigid’s Church helped conduct door-to-door outreach in Westbury and New Cassel. Particular attention was paid to getting local business owners involved in informing their customers about the upcoming Citizenship Day. The church also publicized the event in the parish bulletin and distributed flyers after the three Spanish masses. Members of New York Communities for Change did outreach at a local Haitian church.

Seven lawyers and law students provided free assistance to anyone who wanted to apply for citizenship. The volunteer lawyers were trained in citizenship by CARECEN. Volunteer translators were also recruited.

Other partners in the Pathway to Citizenship program were on hand that day. These included Bethpage Federal Credit Union, which provides innovative microloans to applicants; United Way, which handles financial counseling; and the New York State Department of Labor, which assists immigrant professionals in getting licensed in the U.S. Citi Bank’s Pat Edwards was there as well. Citi is the project’s major funder.

Over the course of the event, volunteers completed citizenship applications for 19 immigrants. This was the most successful Citizenship Day so far on Long Island. While it was a big achievement, it was only the first step. CARECEN will begin free civics classes in Hempstead next week to help applicants prepare for the citizenship test.

The next Citizenship Day will be in Brentwood on August 2 at the Make the Road office at 1090 Suffolk Avenue, Brentwood, NY 11717.

For more information on upcoming Citizenship Days, or to host one in your community, contact us at 516-489-8330.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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