Free clinics aim to help South Floridians with their citizenship applications

In an effort to educate South Florida’s legal permanent residents and help them become citizens, the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC) will hold two free citizenship clinics as part of its Florida New Americans program.

The workshops in late March and early April are designed to aid hundreds of South Floridians before a longer citizenship application form will make the process even more difficult.

“We help them to fill out their form and get all their documents ready,” said Natalia Jaramillo, FLIC’s communications manager. “We know for a fact that people don’t have the support to fill out the papers.”

According to Jaramillo, only about 10 percent of legal permanent residents apply for citizenship, with the number even lower in Florida.

“Believe it or not, the majority of the people that come have been residents for decades,” Jaramillo said. “They’ve never had the courage and the resources. This has been very helpful for a lot of these families.”

The application process for citizenship will become even more tedious after May 5, Jaramillo said. The revised version of the N-400 application, which will double in length, will become the new standard for anyone applying for citizenship.

The FLIC, a nonprofit organization that is funded by the National Partnership for New Americans and the New Americans Campaign, is composed mainly of volunteers, paralegals, pro bono lawyers and legal assistants who help immigrants overcome language, legal and financial barriers on their way to becoming citizens.

Financial concerns are especially prevalent among larger families, Jaramillo said, because each member has to apply individually and pay the $680 fee to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security.

“We have volunteers who help low-income families to apply for fee waivers,” Jaramillo said.

Since launching in 2012, FLIC has served almost 2,000 immigrants, with hundreds attending the free clinics.

The first citizenship clinic is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 29 at the Griffing Adult Center, 12220 Griffing Blvd., North Miami. The second, and last, free clinic before the new citizenship form becomes mandatory, will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the St. Thomas University Law School, 16401 NW 37th Ave., Miami Gardens.

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