As a way to help immigrants in Dane County with the naturalization process, Madison Path to Citizenship offers free services to ease the transition to citizenship.
Madison Path to Citizenship, which was founded in July 2015, holds workshops to help people with green cards, who are lawful permanent residents and wish to apply for naturalization.
Laurie Greenberg, a coordinator for Madison Path to Citizenship, said they estimate there are 12,000 to 15,000 immigrants in Dane County who have the right to be naturalized citizens. The citizenship workshops help those interested navigate the often “confusing” path.
“When we talk about citizen workshops, it’s an actual sit down, roll up your sleeves, you bring all of your documents as an immigrant,” Greenberg said. “People come to the citizenship workshop when they are ready to file for naturalization.”
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Often situations vary from person-to-person when it comes to filing for citizenship. At the workshops, applicants can receive free services like meeting with an attorney, getting help on the application and being assessed for a fee waiver.
Greenberg said there are many challenges when it comes to getting U.S. citizenships, some of which include the $680 fee, English language skills and the cost of a reliable lawyer. Many immigrants also might be coming from low-income work, or even working two jobs, so it’s difficult to take the time to learn English and study the additional information needed for the citizenship test.
Because of the fee she said many people renew their green cards because it is less expensive.
Erin Barbato, an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School and immigration lawyer, said the process can be very intimidating. With the lack of nonprofit organizations that deal with this issue specifically, she said it is challenging to afford a lawyer to help navigate through the process.
Barbato said the workshops make the process more accessible and approachable.
“I think that Madison Pathway to Citizenship is a great program,” Barbato said. “The naturalization is so important for many reasons.”
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Greenberg said Madison is a part of Cities for Citizenship, a national initiative that encourages cities to invest in citizenship programs. There are currently 26 cities across the U.S. who are participating. Madison joined in May 2016.
As a part of the initiative, Greenberg said Madison Path to Citizenship can look to other cities to improve their program.
She said it’s been about 50 years since there has been a program in Madison designed to help those applying for citizenship. There are many more immigrants coming to the country now than there have ever been before, she added.
“We want to reach out to people who are part of our community who aren’t able to participate fully,” Greenberg said.
At the last workshop, there were around 36 volunteers from 20 different organizations helping attendants with their applications. Attendants are able to stop by stations to fill out the 20 page form and meet with attorneys.
Barbato said citizenship would allow immigrants to vote, have access to more jobs, leave the U.S. without fear and to be protected from deportation.
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Madison Path to Citizenship can help lawful permanent residents begin the naturalization process, Barbato said.
“It’s really a wonderful program that will encourage people who are eligible to apply for citizenship, which can really change lives and futures,” Barbato said.