DALLAS -- U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, is calling for more legal permanent residents in his state to take the step to become American citizens.
Not only will they will have the right to vote, petition their family members, and get government protections when they travel abroad; they will also be eligible to apply for high-paying federal jobs, which are now booming in Texas.
“There are more than 100,000 defense jobs that offer six-figure salaries in Texas. We need newly naturalized citizens to fill these jobs,” Veasey told a group of reporters Tuesday at a roundtable organized by New America Media in collaboration with the New Americans Campaign, a national effort to make citizenship more accessible.
In recent years, business analysts say, Dallas/Fort Worth — dubbed the Silicon Prairie — has been listed among the top 10 U.S. cities for defense jobs and IT positions for security-cleared professionals. Much of this employment requires skilled professionals who speak languages other than English.
And because they are federal jobs, only U.S. citizens can apply.
Now, with immigration reform stalled in Congress, Veasey added, the only way “to have a profound impact on policy” is for legal permanent residents to naturalize and elect the leaders who represent their communities.
“If you are a U.S. citizen,” he said, “you can make your governor or mayor listen to your needs.”
Hassan Al Zuheiri, a newly naturalized U.S. citizen, agrees.
After arriving in the United States as an Iraqi refugee in 2008, and getting his green card two years later, Al Zuheiri worked hard to integrate himself into American society. But he said something was still missing.
“I was already a legal permanent resident, but I always felt unstable and I never felt fully protected,” Al Zuheiri said. “Now that I am a U.S. citizen, I just feel blessed.”
Enrique Polavieja, immigration specialist at the International Rescue Committee, added that immigrants often find that their lives get more secure and their incomes increase when they become American citizens.
“We live here, we work here and we have families here — so we need to protect them and ourselves by becoming U.S. citizens,” said Polavieja.
The New Americans Campaign has seen a positive impact nationally — with about 170,000 immigrants having become naturalized since 2011, and about $150 million saved in legal and applications fees they otherwise would have spent.
In Dallas, where the immigrant population has grown dramatically, the numbers are critical. There are 930,000 people who are eligible to apply for citizenship in Texas, about a quarter of them from the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
Yet nationally, only about 8 percent of eligible immigrants take the step to become citizens each year.
That’s why community leaders, government officials and advocates here are pushing harder for citizenship, trying to find ways to increase the number of applications and make the naturalization process easier.
“This is why we want you all to get involved,” said Luis Arango, citizenship program manager at Catholic Charities of Dallas. He urged the ethnic media to inform the immigrant communities they serve about the free legal services and citizenship workshops that are provided every month in Dallas.
Catholic Charities of Dallas, Proyecto Inmigrante and International Rescue Committee organize the free workshops as part of the New Americans Campaign, one of the ways they are helping to make it easier for green card holders here to naturalize. They also help address some of the barriers immigrants face in applying for citizenship, from providing English-language and civics classes to helping low-income applicants access fee waivers so they don’t have to pay the $680 application cost.
The White House has also stepped up, launching its own national campaign that aims to remove barriers that immigrants face during the naturalization process.
In September, Arango said, Dallas will be back in the spotlight as more than 150 representatives from organizations across the country will be in town to discuss the next steps in helping more immigrants become U.S. citizens. The national conference culminates in a free workshop in Dallas on September 12, to help eligible immigrants through the naturalization process.
For more information about the New Americans Campaign, go to www.newamericanscampaign.org.
Upcoming Workshop in Dallas:
Saturday, September 12, 2015 at 9:00 a.m.
Santa Clara Community Center, 321 Calumet Avenue, Dallas, TX 75211
For more information, call: (214) 634-7182 www.ccdallas.org/citizenship
or (888) 793-2182 Ext. 201 www.proyectoinmigrante.org.