On Saturday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn joined the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) along with dozens of immigrant organizations to celebrate the New Americans Initiative's 1,000th citizenship workshop. The workshop was part of the One Nation, One Dream: Immigrant Integration Summit, which featured a moving oath ceremony for 26 brand new citizens, workshops on issues affecting immigrants in Illinois, and assistance for more than 200 eligible immigrants to fill out citizenship applications.
Governor Quinn assisted Claudia Sanchez to fill out her citizenship application. She was one of the 200 applicants who attended the citizenship workshop.
Sanchez is a 43-year-old resident of the Pilsen neighborhood who emigrated from Mexico 12 years ago on a work visa. She is a former special education teacher who now works at Mujeres Latinas en Action with victims of domestic violence as a Women in Transition program coordinator. To advance her professional career, she is currently attending St. Augustine College. Claudia is passionate about her work to empower the immigrant community. "I am very excited about becoming a US citizen, and I was honored to be assisted by our governor through the process," said Sanchez. "This is a dream come true, and I can't wait for the moment when I can proudly say that I am an American."
Watching the governor sitting with one of the 50,000 new Americans that the New Americans Initiative (NAI) program has assisted was a beautiful sight. It was a sharp contrast to the recent attacks on babies by anti-immigrant hard-liners.
Below is a video clip from the governor's speech:
The event celebrated immigrant integration by highlighting the importance of citizenship and the impact of the NAI, a partnership between the ICIRR and the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). NAI is an integrated citizenship campaign that uses grassroots and media outreach in 23 languages to provide free legal screening, application processing, and referrals for English and citizenship test preparation services to immigrants throughout Illinois. In the last five years, 169,996 immigrants in Illinois have become US citizens. From February 2005 to January 2011, the New Americans Initiative assisted 49,788 immigrants to become US citizens.
Several studies confirm that naturalization increases the capacity of immigrants to succeed. In fact, the annual median salary increases by 55% when a person becomes a citizen, increasing income tax revenues by $34.1 million. Naturalized citizens earn an average of $6,888 more per year than non-citizens, and are twice as likely to speak English. More on the NAI fact sheet.
The impact of becoming a citizen goes beyond personal benefits like being able to travel without time limits; it also provides individuals with the right to vote and to access better jobs and better salaries that, in exchange, turn into buying power and other benefits to the communities they live in.
These are the geo-coded maps we made showing where these new citizens we have assisted live. Each dot represents three new citizens. The density of new citizens is absolutely striking.
Immigrants are eager to become citizens and fully integrate to the democracy of this country. Citizenship is the pinnacle of immigrant integration and the beginning of full civic participation. Programs like NAI are critical for this transition, which benefits both the newcomers and the native-born Americans. In Illinois, we are glad to have a governor who understands and fully supports immigrant communities.