CASA de Maryland
Maryland has been one of the top ten leading recipients of Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) in the country for the past ten years. Of the approximately 210,000 LPRs in Maryland, an estimated 120,000 are now eligible to naturalize. Many eligible LPRs never attempt to naturalize because they are either unaware that they are eligible or do not know how to begin the process. LPRs that do begin the process are often hindered by limited English proficiency, the high cost of applying, legal bars or the lack of sufficient support to navigate the process.
While the barriers to naturalization are significant, they are also surmountable. The New Americans Citizenship Project of Maryland addresses the unique reasons why LPRs are not naturalizing through a comprehensive and coordinated citizenship promotion program.
The New Americans Citizenship Project of Maryland involves three key components:
- Direct Immigrant Integration Services
- Information Gathering
- Community Involvement, Leadership Development, and Volunteer Management
AmeriCorps members are charged with coordinating workshops and intake clinics focused on naturalization, financial literacy and economic development; assisting LPRs in filling out the N-400 citizenship application; teaching and/or coordinating English and citizenship preparation courses; strengthening and developing organization partnerships; conducting needs assessments and community education within the immigrant community; developing volunteer opportunities; cultivating immigrant and new citizen leadership; and training and coordinating volunteers.
CASA de Maryland formed Citizenship Maryland to address one of the primary barriers that Legal Permanent Residents face in becoming U.S. citizens – the financial burden of the naturalization process. The loan program was designed in collaboration with financial institutions and two Community Development Financial Institutions (CFDIs): the Latino Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) and the Ethiopian Community Development Council Enterprise Development Group (EDG), following a review of small dollar loan programs nationwide.
The goals of Citizenship Maryland are two-fold: 1) to increase the rate of naturalization among LPRs in Maryland and 2) to promote family financial stability and improve financial behaviors through a loan product that provides incentives for timely and complete loan repayment.
• The loan amount will be set at the cost of the citizenship application, $680, with a 8.5% interest rate (with an existing checking account) or 9% interest rate (without a checking account).
• The borrower begins repayment one month after the loan has been dispersed and s/he will have six months to repay the loan (approximately five payments of $120 and a final payment of $100).
• When the final on-time payment is made, the $25 initial application fee will be deposited into the borrower’s savings account if s/he has one to encourage the individual to continue saving after the loan has been repaid.
• CASA will provide assistance in filling out the N-400 application for citizenship and provide individual coaching sessions on important financial literacy topics such as – budgeting, credit building, wealth and asset building, and consumer protection.
• Additionally, borrowers will be encouraged to participate in CASA’s Citizenship classes offered at convenient times throughout the week.
New American Success Stories
Tina Davies, Liberia
“I want to have the opportunity to vote. It is important for everyone to vote so you have your rights and your voice will be heard.”
Fleeing war-torn Liberia in 1999 and leaving her children was a heart-wrenching decision for Tina Davies. But she knew there was no future for her family amidst the violence in her home country. She traveled to the U.S. as an asylee and worked for years to learn the skills she would need to be successful – including speaking and writing English, driving a car, and balancing a checkbook.
When she became a U.S. Citizen in April 2011, Tina knew that a new period in her life was beginning – one in which she would be able to vote, unite her family, and travel freely to visit relatives in West Africa. She credits CASA’s New Americans Citizenship Project of Maryland with making her dream of U.S. citizenship come true.
Carlos Bonilla, El Salvador
“Working with the New Americans Citizenship Project of Maryland was an excellent preparation for my citizenship exam. I was very happy with the support of the members through every step of the application process. When I finished the citizenship class I felt more than ready for the interview. I was very comfortable answering the questions and talking with my interviewer in English. The officer interviewing me even complimented my English skills and how well I had done on the civics portion of the exam.
I told her it was because I studied with CASA de Maryland. I appreciated that the services are free of charge. Many people have a hard time paying for the application itself, so to offer these kinds of services are a huge benefit to the community.”