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Tag: Lending Circles for Citizenship

Citizenship for New Yorkers


The $725 application fee is keeping one million New Yorkers from becoming citizens.

Building a wall, the Muslim and refugee ban, sanctuary cities, an uncertain future for DREAMers: under the current administration, immigrants from all walks of life are under attack.

In February, NPR reported that even green card holders are afraid; they’re now applying for citizenship at unprecedented rates.

That’s because citizenship offers protection and security.

America has a long history of welcoming people from all over the world. During the last decade, the U.S. added more than 6.6 million citizens into the fabric of our nation, with 730,000 in 2015 alone. But there are many people eligible for citizenship who don’t apply.

One of the biggest barriers? Cost.

Lending Circles can pave the way to opportunity.

In the 2017 State of the State Book, Governor Cuomo makes a commitment to protect the safety, security, and dignity of immigrants. In just a few months, nonprofits in New York State will be able to offer Lending Circles loans to people who can’t afford to become citizens or lack access to financial products.

Why is this work critical?

  • Because immigrants represent one out of five New Yorkers and contribute significantly to the state’s economy as business owners, workers, consumers, and taxpayers.
  • Nearly one million New Yorkers are eligible to become U.S. citizens, but many are unable to do so because they cannot afford the $725 application fee.
  • While some qualify for fee waivers, this cost barrier stands between 158,000 New Yorkers and citizenship.
  • MAF is proud to join forces with the good people of the State of New York to pave the way to financial security for New Yorkers through 0% interest loans.

Want to help?

  • Get informed. Check out the State of the State book (page 172).
  • Get invested. Any new expansion or effort requires new support. Help us build our Lending Circles community in New York!

Curious about our NY partners?

  • Check them out here.

Passing up opportunities: my life before citizenship


My journey from DREAMer to U.S. citizen with Lending Circles for Citizenship

People usually celebrate their first anniversary with paper, but I like to do things my way. I celebrated my 14th anniversary of living in the United States with paper: the N-400 form. This form is a promise my mother made coming to life. It is the opportunity for me to get my U.S. citizenship. With lots of joy and excitement, a little packet that includes the N-400 form, my passport pictures, and a check, I started my process to become a U.S. citizen on April 1st. This simple set of papers means the world me. It is my struggle, my mother’s struggle, my sisters’ struggle, and it is the promise of a better future.

My immigration story is just as much about my mother as it is about me.

My mother sacrificed so much to bring us here and she overcame so much to raise us in a place that, at that time, was foreign to her. My mom left El Salvador escaping a violent marriage, leaving her daughters and her life as a nurse behind as her last push for survival. She left her family, her job, and the life that she knew so that we could have something better – something more than she ever could.

I left El Salvador two years after my mother, when I was 11 years old, with the promise that my sisters and I were going to reunite with her and we would get to go to Disneyland (most immigrant children I know come with that promise, even though we haven’t been able to make that trip… yet).

Instead of Disneyland, and movie stars I came to live in scenic Oakland, CA, which is still pretty cool!

Even though our first apartment was small and cramped, it was packed with love and laughter. I moved years later to San Francisco where I was able to set roots. But those roots weren’t immediately allowed to dig as deep into the soil as I had wanted.

It was when I was a teenager that I realized what it really meant to be undocumented. While in high school, I let go of many opportunities because of my status. I wasn’t able to join a group of girls visiting Washington D.C. because I was a liability to the school. I also couldn’t apply for internships to build my experience because I did not have a Social Security number.

And then I had to turn down the opportunity of a lifetime.

I was full of curiosity and wanted to explore my new home, but being undocumented limited me to explore California. Back then, no one but my best friends knew I was undocumented. I was the only one in my Senior class in that situation and I was too afraid to explain the *real* reason why I had to turn down so many great opportunities.

Then I had to pass on the opportunity to attend the University of California Los Angeles because it cost too much and I couldn’t qualify for financial aid. Back in 2006, when I was deciding what college to go to, there were few resources for undocumented students. We had AB540 which allowed us to pay in state tuition but I was not able to qualify to Cal Grants or federal financial aid like my citizen friends did. So I ended up going to San Francisco State University and made it through college thanks to scholarships from the Chicana Latina Foundation Scholarship that did not require a social security number in order to qualify.

It took more than two years of overcoming immigration hurdles to become U.S. residents, something that I don’t say lightly.

To be able to become a U.S. citizen, you must wait five years after becoming a resident in order to apply. A year ago, anticipating our 5th anniversary of becoming U.S. residents, I invited my mom and sister to join a Lending Circle for Citizenship. I found out about this program while interning for the Cesar Chavez Institute of San Francisco State University. I was working as a student assistant collecting surveys for an academic evaluation on the financial practices of individuals in the Mission district.

While working for the school, I found out about the different programs that MAF offers – one of them being Lending Circles for Citizenship. I signed us up so that the money we needed to apply for the citizenship application would not stop us. For the three of us, it was going to cost over $2,000 just to apply.  With rising living costs in San Francisco, it has been getting harder for my mom to keep up with the rent while also supporting my sister’s college career. The program has helped us put money aside each month for this important application. We knew that our money would be safe with the Lending Circle program and that we would be able to access it once we were ready to apply.

In the Lending Circle program, we each made monthly payments of $68 for ten months to be able to afford the $680 for the cost of the citizenship application.

Becoming a resident has been a huge blessing. I have been able to get a job that I love and travel to places that I only would have dreamed of years ago. I loved Lending Circles so much that I knew I had to be part of MAF. I was thrilled to join the staff at MAF in the summer of 2014 as a Programs Coordinator. My job enables me to help individuals whose stories resemble mine. I see in them the challenges and opportunities of my own experience as undocumented in the US and I want to be there to help them through their journey. Now that I am in the process of becoming a citizen, I am particularly excited to be able to officially express my vote, 2016 presidential elections, here I come!

I submitted my application for citizenship on April 1st of this year and I am waiting to continue the interview process and get sworn in. I continue to encourage my mom to do the same by keeping her up to date on all of the citizenship fairs happening in the city, preparing her for the interview questions, and helping her in small but persistent ways (like installing the citizenship app on her phone so that she can study on the go).  My goal is for her to apply by the end of this month.

I want to do as much as I can to help my mom on her path to citizenship – just as she has done so much to support my sisters and me.

For me, immigration means opportunity. It means survival. It means stripping away the violence and hurt from a broken home, to make new memories and impact in a country you now call your own. Life in the U.S. has given me many opportunities but it has also come with its fair share of struggles.

From my early memories of living in a cramped studio apartment with my sisters and mother, hiding in the shadows for 9 years because of our undocumented status to walking into my final interview for citizenship. In the face of all of that I celebrate, I cheer, and I smile.

This celebration isn’t only for me. This celebration is for everyone that has struggled, and fought past every roadblock, every slap, every name hurled at them, in their journey to  find peace, and a better life for their families. These victories and struggles have brought me closer to my mother, my sisters, and finding a better life for myself as a citizen of the United States. Now, as I take the final step, I reflect back on the long, rocky path, the paper I celebrated my anniversary with, and my impending citizenship.

If you know someone who could use Lending Circles for Citizenship, please encourage them to sign up today at LendingCircles.org.

Rosa: The Long Road to Citizenship


Obtaining U.S. Citizenship brings about a new phase in Rosa Romero’s life.

After a lifelong career as a teacher in El Salvador, Rosa decided to move to the US. After her sister got her housing papers, Rosa left her sons, students and her life behind to pick up and move on July 23rd, 2009 – a date she procures without a moment’s hesitation. Nearly 5 years since that date, she is happy to say she is now living in San Francisco as a U.S. citizen.

Rosa’s childhood makes it pretty clear that she is willing to follow her dreams no matter what others may think. 

Growing up in El Salvador with her grandmother and six siblings, Rosa lived a humble life. Her grandmother owned cows and goats and made sour cream and cheese from their milk. Rosa would sell these goods to a local market.

Though her grandmother hoped she would become a nurse, Rosa realized pretty quickly that her aversion to the sight of blood might make that impossible. She, instead, envisioned a life as a teacher.

After a 25 year long career as a high school science teacher, she can say she brought her dream to life.

To this day, her former students will stop her on the street or message her on Facebook thanking her for all that she taught them. These moments have made up some of her favorite times as a teacher. Her two sons, who still reside in El Salvador, have come to love their careers as an entrepreneur and a captain in the military just as much.

Rosa found her way to MAF through her sister who was a client at MEDA getting support to launch her own business. Her sister heard of the Lending Circles program and thought it would be the perfect way for Rosa to save the money necessary for the citizenship application.

The decision to join the Lending Circles program was relatively easy for Rosa.

She was familiar with the concept having taken part in informal lending circles back in El Salvador with her fellow teachers. It was even easier to join a Lending Circle at MAF when she learned of the strong history of success for its members.

Rosa believed so much in the power of Lending Circles that she joined another before even finishing her first and has been part of 5 in total in an effort to continually build her credit.

The Lending Circles program eases the financial burdens of becoming a US citizen by allowing participants to build their credit while making monthly payments towards the high $680 application fee. Once participants are ready to apply, they receive a check made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. For Rosa this meant she could focus her attention on all the other difficult aspects of the process; the largest of which was the language barrier. Rosa studied for the English exam for over a year. All of this effort was for an interview that would last her only about 10 minutes.

Immediately after the interview, Rosa learned that she had passed and was to become a citizen. Upon hearing the news, she thanked God for this opportunity and felt a wave of happiness come over her. With her US citizenship, she can now travel freely to El Salvador lessening the strain on her visits to family.

Rosa’s story perfectly exemplifies the character of our members. We showed her the door, and she had the strength to walk through it.

Claudia: Becoming a U.S. Citizen


From Mexico to San Francisco, this stylist followed her dream and is a proud new U.S. Citizen

There was a buzz of excitement in the crowd sitting in the balcony of the Paramount Theater in Oakland. Smiling families and friends waved American flags and excited children clutched bouquets of flowers. It was just like a graduation ceremony with life-changing certificates and congratulatory speakers. But this was a citizenship ceremony. In a few moments, everyone on the floor below would be U.S. citizens.

The immigration officer on stage told the soon-to-be citizens: “This country is a better place because of your talents, character and personality. Thank you for choosing the U.S.”

Claudia Quijano proudly stood with 1,003 other immigrants from 93 countries of origin listening to the speech. Each person was asked to stand up when their country of origin was called, at which point the audience would cheer until all the aspiring citizens were standing. America’s melting pot was right here in this room together from Guatemala, to Egypt, to Germany, to South Africa.

The ceremony featured video messages from Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Obama welcoming the new citizens to the country and emphasizing the significance of this privilege and duty. The keynote speaker was an immigration judge and daughter of Armenian and Finnish immigrants, who talked about civic engagement and serving one’s country.

Claudia’s journey started 9 years ago, August 2004, when she immigrated by herself from Mexico to Santa Rosa. She applied for political asylum and moved to San Francisco shortly after. Back in Mexico, Claudia studied at a beauty school and became passionate about coloring hair. She began styling in 1987 and had her own salon in 1991. She dreamed about finding success in the United States but knew she would have to compete with so many other immigrants and American citizens.

“It’s incredible. For me, it’s a very important day. It represents the most important goal for me in my life,” she said.

When Claudia first arrived in the US, she had trouble getting the right paperwork for legal residence. She obtained a lawyer who helped her become a permanent resident but then discovered that it was still difficult for her to secure the kinds of jobs she wanted because she was not a citizen. But Claudia was not discouraged.

She worked as a stylist at a salon in the Mission District when she learned about Mission Asset Fund and the Lending Circles for Citizenship program, which connected aspiring citizens with resources and access to funding for the $680 citizenship application fee. She was overwhelmed with how much MAF was able to provide her with the information she needed.

“Everyone there was always happy and helped me a lot,” she said with a smile.

In January 2014, Claudia joined a Lending Circle for Citizenship and received her check for the $680 application fee. She described the application process as “easy” because of the involvement and support of MAF and other nonprofit organizations.

Claudia is excited for many benefits that will come as a citizen, but the opportunity to vote is number one.

“There are many responsibilities I now have,” she said. “The most important is I can vote and improve my life.”

The candidates recited the national anthem followed by the oath of citizenship and pledge of allegiance. The moment was an emotional one for Claudia.

“I almost cried in the ceremony. My favorite part was singing the anthem with everyone. We were all singing and feeling happy,” she said.

Her advice to other immigrants and aspiring citizens is to fight for your dreams and not give up.

“Believe in yourself and look for places to help you,” she said.

The ceremony closed with a local choir singing two classic American folk songs, “America the Beautiful” and “This Land is Your Land.”

Claudia’s long-time friend, Maritza Herdocia, joined her after the ceremony to celebrate her achievement. Claudia named Maritca as a main support for her over the past eight years.

For Claudia, becoming a U.S. citizen means unlocking more opportunities. For years, she has worked as a hair stylist, renting chairs in small salons in San Francisco. But now that she’s a new American, she is ready to take on something even bigger: opening her own beauty salon.