Melitina Florentina Quiroz and her husband Silviano have lived in the United States for several decades – Sliviano arrived in 1979, and his wife joined him in 1995. While in America they raised a large and loving family of 9 children, all of whom are now legal permanent residents or citizens. Not having naturalized, Melitina and Silviano were excluded from the ability to vote, sponsor family members to immigrate to the United States, and other benefits of citizenship.
On Citizenship Day in Yakima, Melitina and Silviano, who are in their mid-80s, took the final step of completing their naturalization forms, and they are now on the verge of realizing a dream that had been decades in the making.
“I want to become a citizen because I want to vote and get better retirement benefits,” said Sliviano, 84. “I want to be able to help the community more.”
Melitina and Silviano were just two out of hundreds who received free legal assistance in filling out their citizenship applications. They had decided to get their citizenship almost a decade ago, but health problems and the $680 naturalization fee prevented them from pursuing their goal. Citizenship day was very helpful for that reason, Melitina said, as she would be able to save the money that would have been spent on hiring an attorney to help with her application and instead use those funds toward the naturalization fee.
“I’m excited to do my civic duty and vote for the president,” Melitina, 86, said. “To me, citizenship means the freedom to fully contribute to my country.”
In partnership with the Washington chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Washington New Americans holds Citizenship Day semi-annually in four Washington cities. The events are designed to meet a growing need for naturalization services in Washington’s immigrant community. Demographers estimate that there are more than 180,000 non-citizen residents of Washington who are eligible for citizenship, but, due to many factors, have not yet naturalized. Often this is due to confusion about the process or the $680 naturalization fee, which can be prohibitive to some.
“The Washington New Americans program is truly a gateway to full engagement in our society. Citizens can vote, travel without fear, sponsor family members, and gain access to new economic opportunities,” Rich Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica said. “By pairing eligible residents with dedicated staff, pro-bono attorneys and a team of wonderful volunteers, we want to make citizenship an attainable goal for all.”
Washington New Americans will hold its next citizenship day in September, and will be organizing smaller clinics between now and then. For more information to to www.wanewamericans.org.