“It’s really hard to live in this country without citizenship,” explained Sun Valley Area Neighborhood Council Vice President Julie Monroy.
Monroy, an émigré from El Salvador, recalled that when she attended California State University at Northridge, she could not get student loans because of her citizenship status. She had to pay for her tuition with credit cards.
Many legal residents of Los Angeles suffer in similar situations, although many suffer unnecessarily. Legal residents that have held green cards for at least five years may be eligible for citizenship. Often, they will not file because they do not know how to navigate the application process and they do not have the money to hire an attorney to file the paperwork for them.
“Attorneys are charging ridiculous amounts to immigrants to become citizens,” explained Monroy. An attorney will typically charge around $700, but some unscrupulous individuals will convince immigrants to pay them thousands of dollars just to fill out the application.
Monroy gained her citizenship after attending a citizenship workshop provided by the Panorama City Neighborhood Council in February of 2011. She was inspired to host a similar event in Sun Valley.
The Neighborhood Council was supportive, and on September 10, 2011, over 400 immigrants turned out to Francis Polytechnic High School to take a step toward citizenship and a step away from legal uncertainty and fear of deportation.
Sun Valley Area Neighborhood Council volunteers made copies of identification and social security cards, produced passport photos, and assisted with filling out all forms. Volunteer attorneys were on-site to oversee the process. Monroy explained, “everything was provided except for application fee.”
“On the day of the event, we had people crying,” Monroy recalled. She remembered one family that came with six children, and that they explained to her that they didn’t have the money to file with an attorney.
Monroy’s own mother and sister attended and filed their citizenship applications. Her sister was officially granted citizenship in July and her mother in August of this year. Monroy explained that they hadn’t filed before because, “they didn’t have money for lawyers.”
Monroy believes that neighborhood councils should make more of an effort to find out what needs to be done in a community. Sun Valley Area Neighborhood Council fulfilled a real community need and gave their immigrant stakeholder population a great gift: United States citizenship and freedom from a life of uncertainty and fear.