Workshop puts immigrants on path to citizenship

Program in Calumet City aims to help immigrants in region navigate paperwork
2008-08-20T00:00:00Z Workshop puts immigrants on path to citizenshipKIRSTEN SRINIVASAN

CALUMET CITY | An upcoming workshop aims to help pave the way for immigrants to have a voice as U.S. citizens.

Legal permanent residents can get free assistance with their citizenship applications at the Citizenship and Green Card Replacement Workshop from 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 30 at St. Victor Parish, 553 Hirsch Ave.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and the South Suburban Action Conference are sponsoring the event in cooperation with Centro Sin Fronteras and The New American Initiative. The workshop will help people gain citizenship and ultimately the ability to vote, said Ignacio Carrillo, Gamaliel of Metro Chicago Southwest organizer and a St. Victor parishioner. Being able to count as a citizen is important, he said.

Carrillo, originally from Mexico, has voted in every election since he became a U.S. citizen 10 years ago, he said.

"The moment I stepped into this country to me it has been my country, and I always dreamed of being able to vote and have a voice," he said. "I couldn't wait until I was able to become a U.S. citizen. ... To me, it was a way to get out of the shadows. People complain but do nothing to implement change. The only way to implement change is by voting."

St. Victor has a large immigrant population, but the workshop is about serving the greater good, not just about serving Catholics, the Rev. Leonard Dubi said.

"We believe this is part of our responsibility to help people help themselves," Dubi said. "This is clearly what the church has historically done as people from other countries have come to the United States."

Applying for citizenship can be complicated, Carrillo said, but the help is free. Last year, people were lined up outside the door hours before the workshop and more than 100 applications were filled out, he said. Most participants were Hispanic, but immigrants also came from Asia, Africa and other places, as well, he said.

The event is open to residents from both Illinois and Indiana, but to apply for citizenship, an immigrant must be a legal permanent resident for at least five years. Carrillo said.

Thirty volunteers plan to help participants fill out and check applications, he said. Immigrants also will receive study materials for taking the citizenship test. People should come to the workshop prepared with their documents and information, Carrillo said.

Legal permanent residents must provide an alien card, Social Security card and state ID or driver's license. Immigrants also must list travels outside of the United States since becoming a legal permanent resident and provide a list of where they have lived and worked for the past five years. They also must provide detailed information about their spouse and children, previous marriages and any arrests. Men must give their Selective Service number and date of registration. Applicants must also bring a money order for $675 made out to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and $10 for photos.

Those who are eligible should act soon, Carrillo said, because the citizenship test is expected to become more difficult in October.

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