Claudia Sanchez waited patiently in a crowded Arturo Velazquez Institute cafeteria Saturday to fill out her U.S. citizenship application, a process that Gov. Pat Quinn would personally guide her through as part of a ceremony to recognize that about 170,000 people in Illinois have become Americans since 2006.
“Today is my day,” Sanchez, 43, said with a smile, moments before Quinn arrived to also participate in a federal swearing-in ceremony for 26 new citizens.
The all-day event on the Near West Side marked the 1,000th citizenship workshop under the New Americans Initiative, a program launched six years ago that has guided nearly 50,000 immigrants through the citizenship process. With roughly $3 million per year in state funds, the program is also geared toward work force development and other aspects of immigrant integration.
About 300 people attended the Saturday event, where the citizenship workshop featured volunteer attorneys who screened would-be citizens for potential legal obstacles in their citizenship applications. Other events at the workshop included talks on immigration reform, redisctricting in Illinois, workers’ rights and health care.
“This is a one-stop opportunity for immigrants form very diverse backgrounds,” said Alie Kabba, president of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which sponsored the event and administers the New Americans Initiative.
For Sanchez, who emigrated from Mexico in 2005, filling out her citizenship application was another crucial step toward her long-term goal of becoming a social worker in Chicago. After waiting the five years required for legal permanent residents before they can apply for citizenship, the Pilsen woman saved up for the $685 application fee, a struggle for her on top of college tuition and other bills, she said.
With Quinn at her side, Sanchez filled out the 10-page application, answering questions about her marital status, travel history and other details before she happily turned over the form to a volunteer who would submit it to the U.S. government on her behalf.
“I am accomplishing my goals but at the same time this is my duty,” she said.