By Allison Hight, 1LMarch 16, 2016
"This is something that I've wanted to do for a long time, ever since I was eligible," said J.L., explaining why she had come to the University of Michigan Law School's Naturalization Clinic. "I've never felt the need before, because I always thought that I was going to go back to South Korea. But now this is my second home, and I want to feel at home."
Last Saturday, the Michigan Immigration and Labor Law Association (MILLA) partnered with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) to host its second-annual Naturalization Clinic, an event aimed at assisting local residents in their applications for naturalization. Last year, the event brought in people from as far as Flint, Detroit, and Toledo, said 2L Jennifer Chae, the founder of the clinic. The naturalization application is complicated, and people get nervous filling it out by themselves, she explained. "I thought that the clinic was a good way to reach out to the community and make a tangible impact."
J.L. was one of approximately 25 legal permanent residents drawn to this year's clinic. She had filled out the application 10 years ago, she said, but the combination of its length, complexity, and high stakes had prevented her from sending it in. Since then, the application has grown to 21 pages, including questions regarding employment history, trips taken outside of the United States in the last five years, and applicants' willingness to renounce allegiance to their current country of citizenship. Depending on the applicant and the level of documentation required, the application can take from one to two hours to complete.
The clinic volunteers worked one-on-one with the applicants, going through any issues that arose along the way. One volunteer, 1L Claire Nagel, explained that she wanted to help because "I had the opportunity to observe a naturalization ceremony several years ago and found it to be a very moving event. I wanted to help more people apply to become citizens and have that experience as well as all of the other benefits of citizenship."
MIRC, a local nonprofit that self-describes as a "resource center for advocates seeking equal justice for Michigan’s immigrants," provided training for the volunteers and answered questions that arose from them or the applicants. In the coming weeks, MIRC attorneys also will re-check all of the applications to ensure that everything was completed correctly before submitting them.
From the time of application until the oath of allegiance, the entire naturalization process can take anywhere from three to six months. When asked what she was looking forward to the most about become a U.S. citizen, J.L. answered immediately: "Traveling with a U.S. passport." She also said that she is excited about voting for the first time since she came to the United States 20 years ago. "I've been building my own opinion here of what's going on in the U.S. and in politics. I want my opinion to count."
For more information about MIRC or to participate in their volunteer efforts, visit www.michiganimmigrant.org.
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