HCPL to Expand Citizenship Programs

Harris County Public Library will join other county departments and community partners to help newcomers turn American dreams into American realities

[HOUSTON, TX. January 25, 2024] – On Tuesday, Harris County Commissioners announced a three-year $5.8 million project that aims to help Harris County’s over 300,000 legal permanent residents become naturalized U.S. citizens. The Harris County Community Services Department has coordinated the County's efforts, pulling together a network of public partners, including Harris County Public Library, as well as non-governmental organizations to provide comprehensive support and assistance for immigrants who wish to undertake the complex and lengthy naturalization process.

The project spearheaded by Commissioners Lesley Briones and Adrian Garcia is financed with a $4 million grant from the Houston Endowment and an additional $1.8 million from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

HCPL will reach out to immigrant communities

The grant will allow HCPL to supplement its team of dedicated volunteer tutors with full-time instructors to prepare residents for the naturalization test, interview, and application process. While HCPL provided nearly 700 citizenship classes in the most recent fiscal year. “We’ve often had waitlists and had classes that were full. We just weren’t able to meet the needs of the community,” says Linda Stevens, the library’s Director of Programs, Partnerships and Outreach, “With the generous investment of the Houston Endowment, we are going to be able to hire ten people focused solely on this effort. They will be able to spread throughout Harris County targeting the areas where the 300,000 residents live and work.”

Working closely with the Harris County Community Services Department, HCPL launched a new webpage: hcpl.net/citizenship as a hub for the initiative The webpage brings together library resources and programs, information about the initiative, and one-click access to partners. The webpage is meant to act as the first step toward naturalization.

A Wide-ranging Network of Partnerships

To accomplish its goals, the citizenship initiative will rely on governmental and private non-profit organizations in partnership and will seek to cultivate new relationships with grassroots groups that serve immigrant communities. The library has brought on board a FUSE Corps Executive Fellow who, among many related duties, will work to identify and build relationships with these potential partners.

Participating agencies and organizations currently include Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Harris County Commissioners Adrian Garcia, and Leslie Briones, the Harris County Community Services Department, and the National Partnership for New Americans.

In addition, Harris County and HCPL are working with four community non-profits to provide free naturalization services to eligible Harris County residents:

Services include naturalization application assistance, citizenship education for the naturalization exam and interview, immigration legal services, and funds to cover the naturalization application fee. For contact information, visit hcpl.net/citizenship/

When Citizenship Rates Increase, We All Benefit

The tangible benefits of citizenship for individuals include citizenship for their children under the age of 18, the possibility to reunite with extended family, the ability to travel outside the U.S. without restrictions, eligibility for certain government jobs and federal benefits, certain tax advantages over permanent residency, and, of course, the right to vote. But citizenship also provides new Americans with a sense of permanence, stability, and belonging.

When more legal permanent residents become citizens, communities like Harris County reap benefits as well. New citizens strengthen and expand the U.S. economy through small business ownership, innovation, and entrepreneurship. They expand the nation’s tax base and represent an essential segment of the workforce. In short, they put significantly more into the country’s well-being than they collect in government benefits. “America’s strength lies not only in its diversity,” said Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, “but in the shared commitment of its citizens, both natural-born and naturalized, to building a safer, more diverse, and prosperous future for all”

There are no shortcuts

The naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen is complex, lengthy, and expensive. The Naturalize Now, Houston project does not change that fact, but it offers support and assistance for the lawful permanent residents in Harris County who may have found the prospect too daunting to undertake. “This investment, this partnership,” says Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones, “helps make the American dream one step closer to becoming the American reality for hundreds of thousands of our neighbors”

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