Non-citizen residents of Washington state came to Big Bend Community College Saturday to receive free assistance with immigration paperwork at Citizenship Day, sponsored by immigration advocacy group OneAmerica.
The event drew almost 70 people, far more than the 45 that volunteers could handle, producing a long waiting list.
Participants were given free legal assistance with the complicated citizenship application process, and many walked away with a packet ready to be sent to U.S. Customs and Immigration Services.
Permanent residents who have had a green card for over five years or that have been married to a U.S. citizen for three years are eligible to apply for citizenship. But many residents who can apply for citizenship are unaware that they can, according to volunteers.
Event manager Rosana Donoso Barredo said that when she became a Canadian citizen five years ago, it was a simple process with regular reminders that she would eventually be eligible for citizenship.
It’s a different story in the U.S., Donoso Barredo said.
“It was super easy for me, but (in the U.S.), it’s so much more difficult,” Donoso Barredo said. “It can be scary.”
Chelan Crutcher-Herrejon, the sole practitioner of the Seattle-based immigration law firm Crutcher-Herrejon Law Group Inc., has volunteered with OneAmerica for over eight years. Crutcher-Herrejon said that applicant’s confusion is inherent to a confusing process.
“Immigration law is extremely complex, one of the most complex areas of law in the United States,” said Crutcher-Herrejon. “A lot of time when people are going through the process, they have no idea what’s going on in their case, and there are all kinds of things that can trip people up in this process.”
Even for those residents who are aware that they can apply for citizenship, many don’t apply due to the cost of obtaining legal advice, said Crutcher-Herrejon.
“Hiring a lawyer for citizenship is very expensive,” said Crutcher-Herrejon. “Through citizenship day, they can get the legal advice and screening, and make sure everything is correct on their application.”
Though low-income applicants can potentially have the application fee of $725 waived, there aren’t many resources available to them to get legal advice on how to actually fill the application, said Donoso Barredo.
“Here in Moses Lake there are not a lot of services, especially that are free or for low-income,” said Donoso Barredo. “For low-income people, they need to travel to Wenatchee. That’s not always doable.”
The lack of resources in the area creates large turnouts for Citizenship Day in Moses Lake year after year, said volunteers.
“A lot of these people just aren’t being served, which is why there’s usually a large turnout in Moses Lake,” said Crutcher-Herrejon. “There’s such a need for services in this area that it’s sort of overwhelming.”
OneAmerica held three events on Saturday, in Renton, Moses Lake and Pasco.