Former President George W. Bush will highlight the economic benefits of citizenship Wednesday when he hosts a naturalization ceremony for 20 immigrants at his presidential center in Dallas followed by an event sponsored by the New Americans Campaign.
"If even just half of those eligible for citizenship would naturalize, it could add billions of dollars to the economy in the next decade," Matthew Denhart, an immigration fellow at the Bush center, told The Wall Street Journal
The event is one of several sponsored by the New Americans Campaign, a network created by a group of more than 80 grant makers, nonprofit organizations and businesses to help legal immigrants become citizens.
It is backed by $20 million in donations from seven foundations, including the Carnegie Corporation.
“The goal of the campaign is to allow those who want to take that last step toward citizenship to navigate the system,” Geraldine Mannion, director of U.S. programs, told the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
“We want to help people who contribute to our country economically and socially integrate fully into it."
Recent studies have found that naturalized immigrants have higher income and lower poverty rates than noncitizens and are more likely to become homeowners and further their education, according to the Journal.
Currently, more than 8 million permanent residents, or green-card holders, are eligible to become citizens, but in 2011, only about 8 percent of them applied.
That's largely because of the enormous obstacles, including a $680 application fee.
"The high cost of applying for citizenship is a major impediment for many immigrants. But onerous fees are not the only barrier. Aspiring citizens must navigate a complicated and cumbersome naturalization system with little support," Eric Cohen, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and the campaign's coordinator, said in a news release.
The campaign, which has funding through 2015, is using several approaches, including new technology, outreach efforts, and large-scale workshops in its target areas of New York City, Los Angeles, Miami Dallas, Houston, Charlotte, and San Jose, according to Cohen.
Among the tools are an interactive website, CitizenshipWorks; and a free mobile app, available in English and Spanish, that walks users through the application process.
Last week, the L.A. Chamber of Commerce said it would participate in the campaign's Bethlehem Project
to help local employers offer onsite services such as English classes, civics instruction, and legal assistance for citizenship applications.
“Encouraging business to view themselves as an important component of the implementation of comprehensive immigration reform will ultimately enable California to gain an additional $4.6 billion annually,” said David Rattray, a senior vice president of the chamber.
In addition to Carnegie, founding supporters include the JPB Foundation and Open Society Foundations, both in New York; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami; the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, in San Francisco; and the Grove Foundation, in Los Altos, Calif.
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