Russell Bradbury-Carlin: Helping new citizens contribute to Valley life
NORTHAMPTON — Today, our country celebrates Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. During Constitution Week — Sept. 16 to Sept. 23 — more than 18,000 people will become citizens during approximately 180 naturalization ceremonies across the country and overseas.
The Center for New Americans organizes a naturalization ceremony every year in Northampton. Thus, we know first-hand that a naturalization ceremony is a moving event which all Americans should have the opportunity to witness. Immigrants from all over the world vow to support and defend the Constitution, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and proudly wave the American flag. For most new citizens, getting to this milestone is the result of hard work and preparation.
At the Center for New Americans, we provide lawful permanent residents with the support they need to succeed on their path to citizenship. It is a privilege to work with these aspiring citizens. We now have an even greater ability to assist those in our local community through a generous grant from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, which we obtained in collaboration with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
The Rural Massachusetts Citizenship Partnership that the center and the coalition have formed is one of 40 projects across the country to receive this competitive grant award. The funding we and coalition will share, totaling approximately $250,000, will help support our citizenship preparation services for the next two years.
This service is crucial for underserved immigrant communities in western Massachusetts. Now, less than 40 percent of eligible immigrants in the Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire county region become citizens. Through this grant and our partnership with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy coalition, we hope to assist more legal permanent residents to complete their citizenship applications and get the legal and educational support they need to become U.S. new citizens.
Our citizenship services include classes in English as a Second Language and civics; tutoring; study groups; technology instruction; citizenship application assistance and follow-up case management. These services will reach over 800 eligible immigrants throughout the three-county area. Through the coalition’s part of the grant, that includes more services in Boston, too.
This is the fifth year the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has awarded grants to expand the availability of high-quality citizenship preparation services for lawful permanent residents. By helping immigrants improve their English language skills, learn about U.S. history and government and appreciate the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, we encourage civic participation. Civic engagement in service groups, school boards, homeowners associations, charitable organizations and other causes is a hallmark of what makes this country great.
At the Center for New Americans, we are proud to be a part of a process that is so important for our country and for our community.
Russell Bradbury-Carlin is executive director of the Center for New Americans in Northampton.