September 17th is Citizenship Day, a day when we recognize the millions of immigrants who have become U.S. citizens and who have made immeasurable contributions to our economy, our society and our communities. It’s also a day to remember that there are 8 million immigrants in this country who qualify for citizenship but who for various reasons haven’t taken the step of starting the naturalization process. California alone has 2.3 million permanent residents who are eligible for citizenship right now.
While U.S. lawmakers continue to debate how to fix America’s broken immigration system and create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have come to this country looking for a better life, the 8 million green card holders who already are eligible for citizenship are a largely forgotten group. That’s a shame … because helping these people become citizens is not only good for them, it’s good for all of us.
Immigrants have always been a part of America’s story, and today they are vital to the country’s economy and growth. The University of Southern California found that citizenship can boost individual earnings by 8 to 11 percent. That would mean a potential $21-45 billion increase in nationwide cumulative earnings over 10 years if today’s legal permanent residents became naturalized.
Becoming a U.S. citizen has other benefits as well: new citizens become more engaged in their local communities and civic institutions. They gain the ability to sponsor family members for immigration. Many government employment opportunities require citizenship. Perhaps most of all, citizenship is an acknowledgement by both the country and the individual that we share a mutual respect and a common destiny that makes all of us stronger.
The New Americans Campaign (NAC), funded in part by the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, aims to modernize the ways in which service providers help legal permanent residents embark on the naturalization process. If you are a legal permanent resident, head over to the NAC website, and simply enter your ZIP code for a list of free legal aid providers near you to get started with your citizenship application.
This September 17th, let’s take a moment to recognize the immigrants who over the years have helped make this country great. And let’s do our part to open the door to citizenship to more people who stand ready to make our communities and our economy stronger. The NAC website also has a collection of materials about the economic benefits of citizenship, and a list of activities by NAC partners to commemorate Citizenship Day.