Ya es hora (“now is the time”) is the theme of a year-long campaign to achieve U.S. citizenship for the one million non-citizen legal permanent residents in Southern California, and that campaign came to St. Anne’s Catholic Church and Shrine on Friday, July 20. Hundreds of people from all over Southern California – at least as far as Corona – came for information and assistance during the all-day program organized by the LA Voice organization.
The citizenship drive is spearheaded by Spanish-language media company Univision Communications, Inc. and joined in by NALEO – the National Association of Latino Elected Officials – and aims to educate its target audience on the benefits of U.S. citizenship and the process of achieving it.
As part of the campaign, such workshops take place every Friday (since mid-February and through the end of this year) and are hosted by various groups and held at community colleges, churches, nonprofit facilities and other available locations. This is the second workshop hosted by LA Voice and the first held at St. Anne’s, said Jared Rivera, executive director of LA Voice, part of the PICO National Network, a faith-based network founded by a Jesuit priest in 1972 and headquartered in Oakland, California. (“PICO” is “People Improving Communities through Organizing,” and has no relation to the Pico neighborhood of Santa Monica.)
The hundreds who attended St. Anne’s last week proceeded through various stations, including an orientation talk with a Q and A session, assistance in completing the USCIS N-400 form (Application for Naturalization), getting photographed, obtaining individual counsel and getting legal advice as needed. (“On March 1, 2003, service and benefit functions of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) transitioned into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS is responsible for the administration of immigration and naturalization adjudication functions and establishing immigration services policies and priorities.” All per USCIS website.)
The program was scheduled to run from 5:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., said Rivera, but it continued on until after 10:00 p.m. Volunteers staffing the event came from St. Anne’s, the Church in Ocean Park, SEIU (Service Employees International Union), St. Agatha’s Catholic Church in Los Angeles and other groups.
There was a certain urgency to the July 20 workshop, Rivera observed, because at that time “we were only about 10 days away from a dramatic increase by the USCIS for fees to process the citizenship applications.” He declared the day’s event “highly successful,” and noted that there have been over double the number of applications filed in Southern California thus far this year as compared to the same period last year.