Campaign looks to make more Michigan immigrants U.S. citizens

May 15, 2014

Cenia Fraire talks about becoming a US citizen.
Cenia Fraire talks about becoming a US citizen.
Credit via Michigan United

Immigrant advocates in southeast Michigan have launched a push to make more people US citizens.

The New Americans campaign is on the ground in eight U.S. cities, including metro Detroit.

The area is home to large numbers of people who are permanent residents, but haven’t taken the steps to apply for U.S. citizenship.

Diego Bonesatti, legal director for the pro-immigrant group Michigan United, says that’s in part because the immigration process has become a lot more complex in recent years.

“People are kind of exhausted by the time they become permanent residents,” Bonesatti says. “And so there’s a little bit of fear about diving into the pool again.”

But Bonesatti says citizenship offers lots of benefits, such as protection from deportation. Thousands of legal, permanent residents are deported each year for relatively minor offenses.

“I don’t fear immigration,” says Cenia Fraire, who became a naturalized citizen more than 15 years ago.

“I can come out of the house. I can travel in and out of the United States. In the back of my mind I’m not thinking, ‘They can take my legal status away from me.’”

Advocates say there are many other benefits – including more protections for undocumented family members, and the right to vote.

Campaign leaders say they’ll conduct outreach with workshops, informational sessions in schools and churches, and door-to-door canvassing.

There are about 200,000 permanent residents living in Michigan. Experts estimate that more than half are eligible to apply for naturalization, but only a small percentage do each year.