Nonprofit officials have noticed an uptick of legal permanent residents applying for United States citizenship and they hope it continues.
“There’s certainly been an influx of applicants since after last year’s primary elections; it’s definitely grown by leaps and bounds,” said Shakeel Syed, executive director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, or OCCORD.
For the first time, the nonprofit OCCORD will hold a citizenship clinic at the city’s popular annual health fair. The free health clinic is expected to draw hundreds of people and will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 23 and 24, at the Anaheim Convention Center. The citizenship clinic will only be held on Saturday.
Scores of volunteers – including doctors, healthcare professionals, community members and immigration attorneys – are slated to attend the event and offer attendees free medical, dental and vision screenings, medical advice and citizenship consultation.
Syed said 500 people have already made appointments throughout the weekend to attend the citizenship clinics. The clinics will be run by volunteers and paralegals or attorneys specializing in immigration and will provide legal residents a step-by-step tutorial on how to fill out an application to become a U.S. citizen. The process takes two to four hours.
“There are about 170,000 lawful permanent residents in Orange County who are eligible to become citizens,” Syed said. “Many have not applied because they do not have time and/or the fees are about $800. It’s costly.”
Syed said the nonprofits can provide a fee waiver to certain qualifying, low-income residents.
He said the nonprofit has offered these citizenship clinics for six years, but it wasn’t until last year that it started seeing a large increase in the number of participants. The group usually helps 100 to maybe 200 people at each clinic held in churches and schools in Anaheim and Santa Ana throughout the year. At this weekend’s event the group is expecting 600 to 800 people.
Last year, they helped 1,500 people become citizens. This year, they are on track to help more than 1,800, Syed said.
“There’s a high sense of fear and anxiety that has negatively affected the good people in our society,” Syeed said. “The political rhetoric on a national level especially against immigrants and the Latino population has instilled an unwarranted fear in the hearts and minds of folks.”