By Sarah Sumadi
It’s often while anxiously waiting in line at U.S. ports of entry that legal permanent residents first think about applying for citizenship. Returning to the United States after a trip abroad is especially stressful, because re-entry isn’t guaranteed. Immigration officials inspect residents’ green cards while reviewing their full background file and questioning them about their travel, and the process takes much longer than returning to the U.S. on an American passport.
The SeaTac International Airport is the 9th busiest airport in the country, and more than 46.9 million passengers pass through it every year – including at least 100,000 of Washington’s 263,000 LPRs eligible for citizenship. Why not make information about naturalization available right at the same time and place that thousands of eligible residents might be considering it?
OneAmerica is partnering with the national New Americans Campaign and the Port of Seattle to give returning legal permanent residents encouragement and information about naturalization at SeaTac airport. Starting September 17, 2018 – National Citizenship Day – the Port placed ads promoting citizenship throughout the airport, and began playing English and Spanish language public service announcements on hourly rotation at video monitors throughout the international terminal and baggage claim. Port Commission President Christine Gregoire recorded the 60-second PSA in English, and Port Commissioner Ryan Calkins recorded the PSA in Spanish.
SeaTac is only the second airport in the country to take an active role in encouraging LPRs to naturalize. The Atlanta airport, in partnership with a fellow New Americans Campaign member organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice, was the first. The New Americans Campaign is a national network of immigrant-rights groups, community leaders, faith-based organizations and legal experts established in 2011 in over 20 cities, including Seattle that seeks to simplify the naturalization process for lawful permanent residents. OneAmerica has been a member of the Campaign since 2015.
“The Port of Seattle is proud that so many foreign-born residents start their U.S. career at Sea-Tac and we have demonstrated our commitment to being a welcoming and inclusive Port,” said Courtney Gregoire, Port of Seattle Commission President. “Citizenship provides an opportunity for immigrants who contribute so much to our nation to more fully participate and benefit from our American community.”
“By promoting citizenship, the Port of Seattle is also reinforcing an important message: immigrants are already contributing to our nation,” said OneAmerica Executive Director Rich Stolz. “Becoming a citizen is the most important means by which immigrants can protect themselves and their families at a time when our federal government appears willing to do anything it can to discourage immigration and international travel to the United States.”
The Port also announced that they will give secure access badges to World Relief’s refugee resettlement caseworkers, so that they can meet refugees at the gate as soon as they arrive. This initiative is the first of its kind in the country, and the Port plans to expand this partnership to the other local refugee resettlement organizations over the course of the year.
Earlier this year, with input from OneAmerica, the Port Commission passed a Welcoming Port policy to ensure the safety, inclusion and engagement of immigrant, refugee residents and foreign visitors. The new Port policy states that the Port will not use its own resources to facilitate the enforcement of civil immigration law, beyond what is required by law. The new policy also provides for additional free interpretation for Limited-English-Proficient travelers and prohibits Port employees from asking about immigration status or sharing such information with external parties unless required by law.
The Welcoming policy had been in the works ever since January 2017, when President Trump issued the first iteration of the Muslin ban. The Port issued an official statement condemning the ban soon after it came out, and protesters flocked to SeaTac in support of Muslim travelers.