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Romeo Paz and his wife, Sonia Estrada, became legal residents 16 years ago but it was not until now that they decided to become citizens.
«We have already wasted too much time and now the situation is becoming increasingly difficult in the United States,» said Paz, who was born in Guatemala. «Laws are changing in this country every day and we are at risk if we only hold the permanent residency.»
The benefits that come with the citizenship is another reason for their decision to become Americans.
«When I retire, I could go to live in Guatemala and receive my benefits there,» said Paz, who has been living in the country with his wife for 32 years. «I think we have waited too much to do so what it is a way of ensuring the family’s future.»
Although his eldest son became resident at the same time they did, he has not become a citizen yet. But they think their example will motivate him to do so.
“Ahorita no le dijimos nada pero cuando mire que lo estamos haciendo, a lo mejor se anima”, dijo Paz.
«We did not tell him anything but when he sees we’re doing, maybe this is going to encourage him,» Paz said.
Bringing the resources to South Los Angeles
Paz and Estrada attended the orientation session about the citizenship process given recently at the new office of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) that it was opened in South Los Angeles during the National Citizenship Day.
The event was attended by the executive director of CHIRLA, Angelica Salas, as well as the councilman for District 9, Curren Price, and other local organization representatives, and community members.
“The purpose of this center is to reach out to the community, since South Los Angeles has the largest community of immigrants and undocumented population,» Salas said.
CHIRLA’s new office will be located in a building that houses other community services such as El Nido Family Services, the South Los Angeles Workforce Center, 5 Keys Charter School, among others. The first office outside its headquarters in Los Angeles was opened in Pacoima two years ago.
«We want more people to benefit from all the immigration services we offer but we want people to realize that there are other services for the community as well,» Salas said.
«The idea is to establish a relationship between these organizations so that everyone can benefit and improve their lives,» Salas saqid, noting that the El Nido Family Services is willing to cooperate economically with CHIRLA’s work in that office.
In the other hand, Councilman Price highlighted the positive work of CHIRLA and other organizations that is beneficial for the community.
«We know that they will make a big difference in the lives of families and children, especially children, in our area and district,» Price said, noting that one third of the population in his district is under 18. «They are our present and future and we must ensure they have all the resources available.»
CHIRLA has also established a relationship with the Center for Chicano Studies at the University of Southern California (USC) that would allow students from this center to work at the office and help with the community outreach.
The opening of the new office was during the National Citizenship Day, which has been observed since 1940 to commemorate the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787. The event continued with an orientation session about the application process for citizenship.
«We want to ensure that more people become citizens. That is an ongoing process because there are millions and millions of people who are residents but have not become citizens,» Salas said. «Our goal for this year, and next, is that more and more people make the decision from being immigrants to become citizens.»
According to data published recently by the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), 926,189 individuals have applied to become American citizens since this time last year. This means a 32.1 percent spike in naturalization applications over the same quarter last year. In a typical year, naturalization USCIS receives around 650,000 applications.
«In Los Angeles we have over 80 thousand people who have not become citizens, many of them live here in South Los Angeles, and we want to ensure that there is a place nearby,» Salas said. «We are trying to reach out the community, so there are no excuses,» said Salas, with a smile.
CHIRLA’s office in South Los Angeles is located at 3965 South Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90037.
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