When I came to CARECEN’s office in Hempstead yesterday, the first thing my receptionist told me was that dozens of people had called to find out how they could become citizens. While 90 percent of our clients are Latino, the folks calling were from countries throughout the world. They were calling in response to the publicity around the launch of the new Pathway to Citizenship LI project.
What that report tells me is that there is a huge interest among the 100,000 or so lawful permanent residents living on Long Island in becoming citizens, but little understanding of the process. Like everything in our immigration system, the naturalization process is unnecessarily complex. The complexity forces people to use lawyers, and lawyers cost money. Fees of well-over $500 are common.
There is also a lot of mistrust of lawyers by immigrants. First, immigrants often pay people to provide legal services who are not lawyers at all but who present themselves as such. These fake lawyers and “Notarios” do a lot of damage and often steal their clients’ money.
Many immigrants have also had the experience of real lawyers not fully disclosing the true costs of representation. The lawyer may cite one fee, but as the process rolls along, the fees increase and proliferate. Then there is the persistent problem of shoddy services by some lawyers.
The Pathway to Citizenship project is great, in part, because the lawyers’ fees have already been picked up by Citibank and Bethpage Federal Credit Union. The cost of preparing the application is now free to the client. The immigrant still has to pay the application fees that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) charges, but there is no fee for the attorney’s services. And for those who cannot afford the $680 DHS fee, Bethpage Federal Credit Union offers micro loans with manageable payment plans.
Also, when immigrants call CARECEN, they know that we are not advising them to do something that might be against their long-term interests. Since there is no profit for us in persuading them to apply, we always give them a realistic assessment of their cases’ chances.
Please call CARECEN at 516-489-8330 for more information.