Immigrants hoping to live the American dream aided by grassroots effort

More than 8 million immigrants who live, work, and pay taxes in the US are eligible for American citizenship, but only 8% of them naturalize each year.

More than 8 million immigrants who live, work, and pay taxes in the US are eligible for American citizenship, but only 8% of them naturalize each year.

The low naturalization rate is not due to lack of demand. For many immigrants who come to the US, citizenship is the ultimate dream - a means of achieving a better life for themselves and their families. But between costly application fees, complex eligibility requirements, lack of access to English classes, and unscrupulous attorneys, the road to citizenship is full of barriers.

Recognizing the roadblocks, as well as the broad benefits of citizenship for individuals and our communities, a network of legal service providers, businesses, and foundations formed a nonpartisan initiative, The New Americans Campaign, to help aspiring citizens navigate the path to naturalization.

Fenton was brought on to help elevate the campaign's work, raise awareness about the value of naturalization, and provide communications and capacity-building support to the more than 80 partners in the effort - many of which are responsible for providing assistance to those interested in becoming citizens.

After creating a unifying identity for the campaign, Fenton utilized the public launch to raise awareness about the challenges many legal residents face in the naturalization process.

The launch was coordinated with a nationwide series of mega-workshops, a new approach to reaching a large number of prospective citizens at once. It also gave the media a chance to talk with those taking a step closer to their American dream.

The launch generated cover- age in outlets such as NBC Latino, ABC, The Los Angeles Times, and NPR. A preview story in the Los Angeles Daily News generated so much interest the local hotline had to hire extra staff to handle the calls. Fenton also created a website to provide resources and share success stories.

As a result, dozens of nonprofits and legal-service providers expressed their interest in supporting the cause. So far, campaign partners have reached more than 46,000 potential new citizens and hosted nearly 6,000 events. In doing so, they have saved applicants more than $20 million in legal fees and helped complete more than 30,000 citizenship applications.

While the launch has provided us with some momentum, we are committed to building a sustainable movement that helps residents fulfill their dreams - an outcome that benefits us all. 

Michael Waxman is an SVP at public affairs firm Fenton.

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