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Miami archdiocese launches citizenship initiative

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski on Monday launched a major drive to persuade thousands of legal permanent residents in South Florida to become U.S. citizens.

The citizenship campaign targets those who are eligible to apply for naturalization, but who have shied away from submitting an applications because of fear of the process or because they can’t afford the $680 filing cost.

“Right now, there are over 300,000 people living here in South Florida that are eligible to become citizens, yet they have not put in an application to do so,” Wenski told a news conference at the Archdiocese of Miami office in Miami Shores.

Wenski said the campaign includes public service radio and television ads and a one-day workshop on June 22 at the Wolfson Campus of Miami Dade College, where 200 volunteer attorneys will help immigrants fill out applications for free. The event is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Wenski appealed to legal permanent residents to “take advantage” of the event to file their papers and begin the process of becoming naturalized citizens.

Randolph McGrorty, executive director of the Archdiocese’s Catholic Legal Services office, said the drive hopes to file at least 1,000 applications from eligible legal immigrants.

“It will be free. We will not charge. People will have the benefit of an attorney one-on-one,” McGrorty said.

But they may have to pay the required federal processing fees, unless they qualify for a waiver.

McGrorty noted that the target of 1,000 applicants in one day might seem large, but it is really a “drop in the water” compared to the hundreds of thousands in Florida alone who are eligible for citizenship.

Official statistics from the Department of Homeland Security show that 757,434 immigrants became U.S. citizens via naturalization last year, and of those, 100,890 were in Florida. California had the largest number of naturalized citizens at 158,850, and New York came in third at 93,584.

There are an estimated 8.5 million legal permanent residents who are eligible for citizenship, according to a July 2012 Office of Immigration Statistics report.

Reps. Frederica Wilson and Joe Garcia, both South Florida Democrats, were on hand at the news conference. They said their job will be to push for the enactment of immigration reform in Washington, D.C.

Wilson said she knew of many permanent residents who had no idea how to begin the naturalization process. Some of the eligible immigrants, she added, had fallen prey to scammers who ask for money to help them through the process, only to disappear once payment is made.

“I meet people every day who don’t know where to go and what to do and I am so proud that my office is fully staffed to help those who find themselves in that position,” Wilson said.

Garcia urged eligible immigrants not to be intimidated by the $680 fee because there are instances when the cost can be waived.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, meanwhile, said he had issued a proclamation designating June 22 as City of Miami Citizenship Day.

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