How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

LA joins NYC, Chicago in push to naturalize permanent residents

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Mayor Eric Garcetti has joined a new campaign that encourages the estimated 390,000 legal permanent residents in Los Angeles to become citizens for their own benefit — and the city's.

The “Cities for Citizenship" project, funded by $1.1 million from corporate partner Citigroup, is also kicking off in New York and Chicago.

In Los Angeles, a quarter-million dollar allocation will go toward introducing financial literacy to citizenship classes at city libraries, said Linda Lopez, chief of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs. The cost of applying for citizenship — $680 — is prohibitive for many, and Lopez said new curriculum will teach students about saving for the naturalization process, as well as other aspects of their lives.

The new initiative will also help fund citizenship drives at community centers and outreach to employers in sectors with high concentrations of permanent residents, such as hospitality, health care and technology, Lopez said.  

Lopez said the city is eager to boost civic engagement among its residents.

"Naturalization really offers the opportunity to participate in local and community affairs either through voting and different advocacy work," Lopez said.

Cities also benefit financially when residents naturalize, said Andrew Friedman of the non-profit Center for Popular Democracy which has partnered with the cities.

He said studies have shown that citizens earn 8 to 11 percent more than permanent residents.

"Some of it has to do with more job opportunities, a higher degree of comfort on the part of  employers," he said. "Folks are also able to access higher-paying industry jobs than they might as legal permanent residents though they have work authorization.

The center co-authored a report with the University of Southern California and The National Partnership for New Americans that found if half of those eligible sought citizenship, as much as $3 billion could flow to the L.A. economy over 10 years.

Financial giant Citigroup said in a statement it wanted to help immigrant families see "direct economic benefits." 

Citi's Global Director of Community Development Bob Annibale said: "Citi believes that citizenship is an asset that enables low-income immigrants to gain financial capability, and building a national identity must go hand-in-hand with building a financial identity."

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