Lauderdhill, Fla. – Over 400 legal permanent residents attended a two-day citizenship drive at Lauderhill mall this weekend to apply for citizenship. A line of over 100 Jamaican, Haitian, Dominican and Latino immigrants had already formed and wrapped around the building Saturday morning by 9am before the doors opened.
The citizenship event–organized by Commissioner Dale Holness, SEIU Florida, iAmerica, Florida Immigrant Coalition and Florida New Americans–is part of a statewide effort to provide free assistance to eligible legal permanent residents to become naturalized ahead of the November 8th presidential election.
"I was able to become a citizen myself through assistance I received from a previous citizenship event," said Ligia Benavides an immigrant from Colombia who now spends time volunteering to help others become citizens. "The process to become naturalized can be a very daunting experience for many, so I'm happy to devote my free time to help my friends and neighbors in the immigrant community who are eager to become citizens in order to vote in the upcoming election."
In Broward County there are 112,000 legal permanent residents of the 835,000 statewide who are eligible to naturalize. However, many do not apply because they're unaware that they qualify or they cannot afford a lawyer and the application fees. Citizenship drives allow applicants to receive a free quality legal service and a possible fee waiver for those who meet the qualifications.
"I'm happy to host this citizenship drive in my community," said Broward Commissioner Dale Holness. “Our friends and neighbors are hardworking community members who contribute to society and simply want to work and support their families without living in fear. So it's critical we encourage friends and family to become citizens so they can exercise all of the rights our great country offers."
The anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from presidential candidates has galvanized more legal permanent residents than in previous election years to become citizens so they can make their voices heard at the ballot box in November.
Citizenship drives in Florida are part of a larger nationwide collaboration of labor and grassroots organizations including Latino Victory Foundation, SEIU, Mi Familia Vota, the National Partnership for New Americans and iAmerica who are planning 147 workshops in 22 states across the nation with a goal of naturalizing 1 million legal permanent residents this year.
SEIU Florida represents over 55,000 active and retired healthcare professionals, public employees, and property service workers in the state of Florida. SEIU members provide vital public services in Florida’s hospitals, nursing homes, public schools, community colleges, municipal and county governments, malls, and universities. With over 2.1 million members, SEIU is the fastest-growing union in North America.