South Floridians line up for help applying for U.S. citizenship

Venezuelan-born Romulo Barbera said he’s applying for U.S. citizenship because his family “has put down roots here” and he loves the country. His wife, Luisa Sanchez, quickly added, “And I want to vote in the federal elections.”

That’s why the couple turned up Saturday at a “mega citizen workshop” at Miami Dade College where 120 volunteers and activists helped people seeking citizenship fill out the application, which grew from 10 to 21 pages on May 4.

The Florida Immigrant Coalition (FIC) and Catholic Legal Services said they expected about 500 applicants during the four-hour session and more than 1,000 at another on June 14 at Broward College’s South Campus.

FIC Executive Director Maria Rodriguez said the two sessions are part of a drive to help the estimated 830,000 Floridians who are legal residents but not citizens to apply for citizenship because of its many benefits over residency.

Citizenship applications cost $680 compared to $450 for two-year renewals of residency cards, Rodriguez said, but citizens can vote, apply for visas for relatives living abroad and are protected from deportation.

“One DUI and you can trigger a deportation. Citizenship is the only protection,” she said, adding that the organizers of the event also wanted to try to make sure that the new citizens would be able to vote in the elections coming in November.

Like many other applicants at the workshop Saturday, Barbera, 62, an electronic engineer, and Sanchez, 48, a rehabilitation center employee, said they went because they wanted help filling out the lengthy application.

“I just want to be certain that there is no problem with my application, just to be sure,” said Ernesto Figueroa, a 44-year-old Colombian who has lived in the United States for more than 14 years and obtained his residency in 2007.

Barbera and Sanchez said they have been residents for five years, enough to apply for citizenship.

Volunteer Andoni Gonzalez, a lawyer, said the application is not much more complicated now despite the additional pages. But it still takes one to two hours to fill out the document and send it to other stations for double-checking by other volunteers.

The event offered about 120 stations for filling out the applications and double-checking them, free photocopies and passport-size photos and fliers on citizenship classes.

Organizers will send the applications to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) and give copies to the citizenship seekers.

Jorge Acosta, a 54-year-old carpenter from Nicaragua who has been a U.S. resident for 15 years, said he went to the event more to learn about the application process because he has not been able to save the required $680.

“I have $350 put aside, but I make $300 a week, I have to send money to my mother in Managua, pay the rent and pay the food,” Acosta said. “I can save maybe $20 a week, so I did the math — four weeks for [renewing] my green card or four months to put in for citizenship.”

He walked out with a couple of fliers, saying he will just have to wait.

Read more Cuba stories from the Miami Herald

Sixteen migrants are found crammed in this tiny boat around Alligator Lighthouse, which is about four miles offshore of Islamorada in the FLorida Keys.


    More than a dozen Cuban migrants rescued at sea in Keys; several taken to hospital

    A small blue homemade boat with a blue-and-white sail was discovered floating near Alligator Reef Lighthouse, about four miles offshore of Islamorada, on Wednesday. Crammed inside the motorless vessel were 16 Cuban migrants lying down, suffering from dehydration, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Elsa Lopez looks at her clothes and shoes she wore when she left Cuba with her parents at the age of two at the time. Her items are among several donated by Exiles on display at the VIP opening and presentation of the The Exile Experience: Journey to Freedom, at the Freedom Tower. The exhibit is a pictorial account of the struggles that the Cuban exile community has endured since Fidel Castro's rise to power, and the successes they have achieved in the United States, organized and curated by the Miami Dade College and The Miami Herald, on Wednesday September 10, 2014.


    Exhibition chronicles Cuban exiles story

    More than 1,000 people crammed into the Freedom Tower Wednesday night for a peek at an exhibition that honors one of the city’s oldest buildings – and captures the tales of hundreds of thousands of Cubans who fled the island and made Miami their new home.

This is the raft on which 16 Cubans sailed from Cuba to Alligator Reef Light off Upper Matecumbe Key this week.


    Cuban migrants found suffering from dehydration off the Keys

    Sixteen Cuban migrants were intercepted off the Upper Keys on Wednesday afternoon, and seven of them needed medical attention after suffering from extreme dehydration.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category