NYLPI Spotlight: Naturalization Clinic

December 14, 2022

Immigrant Justice, News, Pro Bono Clearinghouse

A client holds up a manila envelope in a courthouse and smiles. Text reads: Free legal services for prospective clients.

New York is home to about 622,000 immigrant individuals who are eligible for naturalization. As a naturalized citizen, individuals qualify for public health insurance programs, earn the right to vote, and have marked improvement in stability in employment and homeownership.

Despite these and many other benefits of naturalization, many immigrants who are eligible have not done so. In fact – less than 10 percent of eligible immigrants in New York have gone through the process to naturalize.

Why? There are a number of barriers that prevent immigrants from applying for citizenship, including cost – the current application filing fee is $725 – lack of information, a need for legal assistance, and English language proficiency.

On Saturday, October 22, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest joined forces with Catholic Migration Services (CMS), Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, and Cleary Gottlieb, Fried Frank and Simpson Thacher to host a naturalization clinic providing free immigration counsel to individuals across New York City. Emily Arndt, an associate for Cleary Gottlieb was one of 25 legal professionals to volunteer who helped 22 prospective citizens complete their naturalization applications, obtain fee waivers, and receive information about their immigration rights.

“The whole process of someone’s immigration story can be difficult, the clinic gives people support to fill out these applications that can be unreasonably burdensome. That shouldn’t be a barrier to someone getting citizenship, so this makes this step a lot easier. If you get wrong help, that can hurt you more than no help,” she said.

Emily worked with one client who was the final member of her family seeking citizenship. She attended the clinic with her son-in-law and called her daughter on the phone, so it felt like a true “family affair.”  Emily guided her through the form which is the final step before the client takes the civics test and oath of citizenship. It is long, personal, and can be intimidating. Participating lawyers are there to set the clinic participants up for success and the interaction requires developing a sense of trust and clear communication.

This is the second NYLPI naturalization clinic Emily has participated in, and she praised the experience as an excellent way to help the community, have a direct impact on individuals, and get to work with other legal professionals from differing specializations. For junior attorneys she noted that “it is great to feel like you are a part of your community and are giving back. It’s only a few hours of your time and it gives you the opportunity to make their lives easier and their immigration experience smoother.”

Making a gift to NYLPI enables us to provide programs such as the naturalization clinic through our Pro Bono Clearinghouse. It’s more important than ever to advocate for the rights of New Yorkers born outside of the U.S. and clinics like these offer comprehensive, accessible services to make a tangible impact in the lives of immigrant New Yorkers. Help us harness the power of pro bono work this giving season by donating today.

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