This September, refugees and other immigrants living in Illinois had an unprecedented opportunity to apply for United States citizenship with an 80 percent discount.
Normally $675, the application fees were reduced to $145 through the New American Dream Fund (NADF), a state-funded program that helped subsidize the remaining costs for qualified applicants.
Although this discount was only available for one month, at least 1,040 people applied for naturalization throughout Illinois.
At World Relief DuPage, news of the discount spread fast, as 68 citizenship applications were filled out and sent before the September 30 deadline.
Erika Miles, Citizenship and Outreach Coordinator at World Relief DuPage, said the organization’s immigration counselors processed most of the applications within a two-week period, taking night hours and working on weekends to help as many clients as possible. “Even though it was a lot of work, it was worth it because we were able to help people who are low-income make their dream of becoming a citizen true,” Miles said.
Catherine Norquist, Immigrant Legal Services Director at World Relief DuPage, said the Dream Fund applicants were upstanding members of their communities and are “truly the ones the U.S. wants and needs as law abiding citizens of this country.”
Miles said many hard working, low income immigrants want to apply for citizenship, but cannot pay the normal fee because of the struggling economy. “It is very difficult to have the $675 in their pocket to apply,” Miles said. “It’s a lot of money for them.” Of the 68 applicants at World Relief DuPage, 17 were Meskhetian Turks who were refugees from Uzbekistan. Other applicants originated from 18 other countries including Liberia, Burundi, Sudan, Mexico, Venezuela, India and the Ukraine.
Norquist said many of the applicants were children, whose application fees will increase from $400 to $600 on November 23. One applicant was a young widow from Iran who was previously unable to afford the citizenship fee due to her tight budget while being the sole provider for her two children. “There would have been no way for her to apply on her income,” Norquist said. “It felt great to get her application in.”
After an application is sent to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, (USCIS), the applicant typically waits about four months for a response. Then, the applicant is required to take the U.S. citizenship test, which consists of questions about U.S. history, government and geography. Once a person becomes a U.S. citizen, they can vote, hold government jobs and petition for their closest family members to join them in the United States. For many who fled from difficult situations in their home countries, becoming a U.S. citizen provides security and peace of mind. “There’s a sense of real pride and belonging that can’t be quantified,” Norquist said