Benefits of citizenship include better paying jobs and the right to vote
By Frederick H. Lowe
CHICAGO—The Council for Islamic Relations and other organizations concerned about immigrant rights that have dominated news headlines since voters elected Donald Trump recently held a news conference at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to address one of many issues that has caused turmoil and fear in the city’s and in the nation’s immigrant communities.
President Trump has called for a Muslim ban and for a wall to be built along the border between Mexico and the United States to prevent Mexicans from entering the United States.
Coupled with highly public arrests of undocumented immigrants by Immigration Customs and Enforcement Agents and Muslims being held at airports and in some cases, being ordered to return immediately to their native country without putting a foot on U.S. soil, has spread fear throughout the documented and undocumented immigrant community.
Leaders of Chicago’s immigrant groups have responded to the Trump administration by urging undocumented immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship.
This, however, is an uphill battle because many undocumented immigrants are frightened, believing they will be deported if they become too visible and active in their communities.
Others are not sufficiently proficient to pass the citizenship language test in English and need additional education and training, but they don’t know where to get it.
And finally, many immigrants take advice from friends and neighbors who may inadvertently steer them in the wrong direction about the correct steps needed to become a citizen.
The O’Hare news conference was held about the same time leaders of organizations from Chicago and the suburbs met in the Chicago Loop offices of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) to discuss challenges they face in encouraging members of their communities to apply for U.S. citizenship.
The event, organized by the Chicago Media Roundtable, was called “The New Americans Campaign United for Citizenship: The Stakes of U.S. Citizenship for Chicago’s Immigrants & This Economy.” New America Media, based in San Francisco, was the prime organizer.
In addition to facing hostility from the federal government, organizations representing immigrant groups that include Mexicans, Chinese, Koreans, Arabs and Poles must spend considerable time educating people they serve.
Nam Kyu Kim, who represents the Korean community, said he must take great care making sure constituents understand what is needed to become a citizen.
“I tell them they just can’t talk to a neighbor or someone with whom they attend church to get the correct answers,” Kim explained.
He also must educate them about how to use the Internet, a basic but extremely important lesson.
When they go online to contact a government agency, they must reach an agency like the Department of Justice whose last three letters are .gov, the official site of a government agency, not .com, which is a commercial enterprise.
Cindy Ruiz, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) coordinator for Hispanic American Community Services (HACES), which is based in Waukegan, Illinois, said Trump’s crackdown has frightened the undocumented.
Some neighbors warn friends about negative experiences they have had, such as failing the citizenship exam, which can discourage them from applying a second time and encouraging others not to take the exam, Ruiz said.
In Illinois, Latin American immigrants make up 84% of the Illinois undocumented populations and Mexicans account for 77 % or 392,000, ICIRR reports.
While Mexicans comprise the largest undocumented group of immigrants in Illinois, undocumented Muslims arguably face the toughest test because they are associated in people’s minds with violence whether it’s fair or not, said Abubakr Meah, Arab Family Services general counsel.
ICRR urges immigrants to seek advice from nonprofit organizations and immigration attorneys about citizenship. The website is www.icirr.org.
Some of the problems Arab Americans face can be deadly.
In February, Adam W. Purinton, a white man, in Olathe, Kansas, shot to death Srinivas Kuchibhotla and wounded Alok Madasani, two immigrants from India, because he believed they were Muslims.
Muslims, however, are finding groups flocking to their side and providing good advice.
During the O’Hare International Airport news conference, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Arab American Family Services, the Council on American Islamic Relations, Arab American Action Network, ICIRR, Jewish Council for Urban Affairs, Jewish Voices for Peace Chicago, Chicago Lawyers for Peace Chicago and Chicago Syrian Community Network protested Trump’s latest Muslim ban which was scheduled to take effect October 24 before a federal judge in Hawaii struck it down the previous week.
The law would have made an indefinite blanket ban on 8 countries, all of which—with the exception of Venezuela and North Korea—are Muslim -majority countries.
“We are proud to stand with our Muslim and refugee allies today against the newest travel ban. Bans like this are wrong on so many levels,” said Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel for ICIRR. “They are unwise, as they deny our country the talent, work, energy, care and spending power that immigrants and travelers bring.”
Breandan Magee, senior director for ICIRR, listed many benefits for undocumented immigrants who become citizens. Two of them include working better paying jobs and voting.
“Voting is critical to immigrants,” said Magee, explaining that a growing number of politicians are running for office to limit immigrants from moving to the U.S. and immigrants who are citizens can vote them out of office.