On Feb. 28 the Clallam-Jefferson County Pro Bono Lawyers in Port Angeles hosted 28 legal, permanent resident immigrants working toward their U.S. citizenship.
The event, "Citizenship Day," brings lawyers, paralegals and translators to different locations throughout Washington three times a year offering their services free of charge.
Nancy Rohde, director of the pro bono office in Port Angeles, said that several countries were represented such as Mexico, Chile, Russia, The Netherlands, Germany and Britain.
"It was an extreme success," Rohde said.
She said Hispanic participants heard about the program by word of mouth in churches and workplaces and from friends, whereas many of the others read about the event in newspapers and advertisements.
"It's kind of funny how that works," she said.
Last year's event helped 20 individuals work toward their citizenship.
Three other cities in Washington hosted Citizenship Day, Tacoma, Mount Vernon and Spokane, with the first two hosting hundreds of individuals.
"There aren't any immigration lawyers in Port Angeles, so this wouldn't have happened without our efforts," said Lisa Seifert, president of the Washington state chapter of American Association of Lawyers.
Volunteers aided participants in filling out paperwork and answering questions about the naturalization process. Some had translators, such as Vianey Caudeas who translated for her grandparents Jorge and Buenaventura Hernandez.
"Our goal is that they'll walk out of here with a finished package ready to mail," Seifert said.
Beginning the paperwork and becoming a naturalized citizen can take up to eight months.
Affordability is another hindrance as it can cost up to $675 to become a citizen. There are programs in place to help low-income people such as those at www.uscis.gov/
feewaiver, but proof of inability to pay must be provided.
Following the application process, those seeking citizenship take a naturalization test where they must:
_ Read a sentence in English
_ Write a sentence in English
_ Answer questions about themselves with three chances for each, and
_ Orally answer 10 civics questions on U.S. history and government.
To pass, the candidate must answer six of the queries correctly.
A few people were afraid to attend Citizenship Day because of fear of the U.S. Border Patrol attending. Many of the participants have illegal resident relatives and they didn't want anything to happen to them.
Seifert said those with concerns still showed but without their undocumented relatives.
The Border Patrol has increased in size from four to 24 agents on the peninsula in the past two years.
The patrol says agents do not racially profile people to determine criminal or illegal immigrant status and their operations are part of securing the nation's northern border.
Agents have increased their number of arrests on the north peninsula, especially through random vehicle checkpoints on U.S. Highway 101 but occasionally from single-vehicle stops and arrests at the home of at least one illegal immigrant in Sequim, according to witness reports.
"Citizenship Day is important because of all the checkpoints," said Jackie Wood, an attorney from Bainbridge Island.
"They are afraid to work."
"Immigration laws are so tough and consequences are so tough, I see this is as my way to help people who cannot afford it," added Peggy Herman, an attorney from Seattle.
"I do it to help keep people safe."
Both Wood and Herman were born into immigrant households and they said they feel a connection with the people they are helping.
Rohde said people interested in citizenship should contact NW Immigration Rights in Seattle at 800-445-5771 or go online to www.wanewamericans.org.
Clallam-Jefferson County Pro Bono Lawyers is at 816 E. Eighth St., Port Angeles. Call 417-0818.
Benefits to naturalizing:
_ Right to vote
citizenship for children
_ Being able to travel on a U.S. passport
_ No more immigration paperwork
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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