Being a U.S. citizen is not only a great privilege, it offers many real and important benefits that improve people’s lives. So many benefits, in fact, that citizenship itself can be seen as a gift. Often this gift is passed from a parent to child, and with that gift, the child’s future becomes brighter, more secure and filled with endless prospects.
That’s because children under the age of 18 can derive citizenship from their parents when the parents become citizens themselves.
But what if that doesn’t happen?
This was the case for 19-year-olds Monyfa Alexander and Daniel Marshall, who both grew up in the foster care system of New York. Originally from Guyana, they came to the U.S. as a young girl and boy, but alcoholism and abuse by their respective fathers separated their families and forced the kids into foster care.
Even though they had spent their teen years in the U.S and felt American, Monyfa and Daniel both knew that their futures were limited as green card holders rather than as U.S. citizens.
So, as soon as they turned 18, they each applied for citizenship.
Monyfa and Daniel are two reasons why my organization, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, is a partner of the New Americans Campaign. Together with more than 100 partners nationwide, we help modernize and streamline access to naturalization services so that greater numbers of qualified legal permanent residents can take the critical next step and become U.S. citizens.
Across the country, nearly 9 million legal permanent residents are eligible for citizenship right now. Almost 1.5 million of them live in New York City. Those are staggering numbers.
With the help of New Americans Campaign partners Catholic Migration Services, Monyfa and Daniel have become U.S. citizens and are looking forward to brighter futures.
Separated from family for years, one of the first things Monyfa and Daniel are planning to do is to reunite with their mothers. As U.S. citizens, they can now petition the government to bring family members to live permanently in the United States.
For two children raised in the foster care system, this is a long awaited moment.
They can also travel with a U.S. passport, which means they can visit their mothers in Guyana without any restrictions limiting their time outside of the country. As U.S. citizens, they can also travel with the security of knowing U.S. embassies and consulates are available in case of emergencies.
And there are other important opportunities that Monyfa and Daniel can take advantage of: access to more educational opportunities such as certain financial aid and college scholarships only available to U.S. citizens.
Not only are Monyfa and Daniel’s lives forever changed through citizenship, our city also greatly benefits.
New Americans make significant contributions to our economy. According to a National Immigration Forum analysis of data from the University of Southern California Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration and the U.S. Census Bureau, if eligible legal permanent residents in the New York City area naturalized, overall income for those residents would increase from $3.4 billion to $4.7 billion per year. Our new citizens would have more income to spend, and New York City and other area governments would take in more tax dollars.
Naturalized citizens are more economically secure than noncitizens. They earn between50 and 70 percent more than noncitizens, have higher employment rates and are less likely to live below the poverty line.
Individual earnings also increase between 8 and 11 percent for new Americans, thanks to more job preparation, better employment matches and a greater ability to change jobs.
The future shines brightly for new citizens like Monyfa and Daniel, which underscores how citizenship is truly a gift for both new Americans and the country they now call home.
Roberto Frugone is the northeast regional director for NALEO Educational Fund, the leading national nonprofit organization that promotes the full participation of Latinos in American civic life. NALEO Educational Fund is a national partner of the New Americans Campaign. Frugone is the site lead for the New Americans Campaign in New York City.