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All Immigrants Need to Be Civically Engaged for Citizenship Day

September 17 is Citizenship Day. This is a day to remind us of the importance of immigrants to our communities. It is not just a day for those immigrants who have become citizens, It is also a reminder to all immigrants, citizens, residents, and undocumented immigrants, of the importance of their participation in our political system.

Many immigrants think that they don't have to get involved in the American democracy until they become citizens. This is a tragic mistake. We are in a period of unprecedented political attacks on immigrants. Our communties need everyone to pitch in now more than ever.

Immigration Reform, which would primarily benefit permanent residents and undocumented immigrants, is on hold and will only be put back on the national agenda if immigrants work for it. Conservative efforts aimed at the mass deportation of millions of immigrants are on the horizon. They will become a nightmare reality if immigrants don’t block them.

Some people are evening calling for the children of immigrant to lose their U.S. citizenship. 

Immigrants cannot simply hope that the future will be better. They need to work for change.

While permanent residents and other immigrants cannot vote, they can still play a role in the election process. The New York Immigration Coalition and its member agencies are holding voter registration drives throughout New York State. You don’t have to be able to vote to help register voters.

Non-citizens can also help create new citizens. At my organization, CARECEN, we hold citizenship drives every two months. The drives involve dozens of volunteers, many of whom are not yet eligible for citizenship, in reaching out to those eligible to apply for naturalization. Non-citizens welcome the citizenship applicants at our offices and help them with an application they themselves cannot file. One undocumented volunteer told me that while he could not vote, he had helped create six new immigrant voters.

Non-citizens can also engage in civic participation by making sure that their houses of worship, unions, clubs, and community groups are talking about the issues that are most concern to immigrants. These groups should advocate for immigrants and help them learn about the voting process.

 Finally, Citizenship Day is a good time for those who are permanent residents to begin the citizenship application process. If you have been a permanent resident for five years (three years for spouses of U.S. citizens) you may be eligible to apply. If you apply now, you will be able to vote in the next presidential election. '

 If you want to apply for citizenship the New York State Immigration Hotline numbers are800-566-7636 and 212-419-3737.

Pat Young is a lawyer at CARECEN on Long Island.

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