There are probably around 400,000 people in South Florida that are eligible to become citizens but do not start any naturalization process. There are a few reasons as to why, but the long and unappealing bureaucratic process, coupled with the $680 required fee, are probably scaring most legal residents away.
On Monday, Thomas Wenski, the activist Archbishop of Miami, started a new fight to help those legal residents fearing the naturalization process. Assembled for a press conference in Miami Shores, the Catholic official announced a new plan that will go on during the next two months to offer free legal services to immigrants wishing to become citizens.
According to Wenski, the project is supposed to give citizenship certificates to 1,000 individuals after a June 22 workshop at the Wolfson campus of Miami-Dade College during which more than 200 volunteer attorneys will provide free services to help immigrants fill up paperwork.
The Archdiocese will not be providing funds to cover each $680 fees. However, the legal services provided will work as much as possible to find loopholes in immigration laws to waive the fee requirement. In addition, according to 7 News, the Catholic Church in South Florida will work with other non-profit organizations to cover the fees as well.
Randy McGrorty, Catholic Legal Services executive director, also announced that another workshop will be held in Broward County as well later this year. But the bulk of the 400,000 legal residents, most of whom are immigrants, live in the Miami area.
This move comes as Washington is currently debating the hot topic issue of illegal immigration. In this context, U.S. Representatives Joe Garcia (D) and Frederica Wilson (D), both from South Florida, attended the press conference to publicly praise Archbishop Wenski’s attempts. Florida Republicans, including Senator Marco Rubio, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, also sent delegates to represent them. Also in attendance was Republican Miami mayor Tomas Regalado.
This announcement by the Catholic Church is great news for the immigrant community trying to fight against the never-ending bureaucracy that the federal government has to offer. The fact that so many federal officials were present at the conference to show support can, at best, be considered an insult. After all, who has the ultimate power to lower immigration requirements?
It is true that the Constitution does allow Congress to enact rules of naturalization. It is also true that is a positive aspect to have part of our immigration services paid for by user fees rather than taxpayers. But it is still a terrible fact to consider how much struggle so many people have to go through before enjoying basic rights, such as voting, attaining high-paying jobs, and even running for office.
Immigrants who have been living in this country for years should be given citizenship in a quick and immediate process. After all, they have been part of their local communities by working, consuming, participating to local events.
Thankfully, people like Archbishop Wenski are great fighters for the freedom to immigrate. The priest has fought for years to promote immigrant rights and his sole action will do more to help hundreds of foreigners than the entire wasteful bureaucratic apparatus that we call the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
On the other hand, the bureaucrats and politicians in Washington can only harm the immigrants. Not a single immigration reform in the past century was done without either increasing the size of the federal government and its bureaucratic reach or making it harder and longer for people to be naturalized.
But we all know how needed are immigrants and naturalized citizens in this economy. There should be more people like Thomas Wenski in South Florida, and less hypocritical officials like our elected representatives.