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CUNY Citizenship staff helps immigrants

At a recent immigration event, City University of New York (CUNY) officials helped immigrants decipher the complexities of the citizenship application process.
“If you are a green card holder for four years and nine months, that entitles you to apply,” said Kymete Gashi, Special Projects Coordinator for the CUNY Citizenship and Immigration Project. “A lot of people get that confused with the two years and nine months rule.”
Gashi explained that to apply for citizenship, immigrants could also be married and living with a U.S. citizen for two years and nine months.
“What many people are looking for is clarity for the requirements to apply for citizenship,” she said.
The event, held on Saturday, September 15 at LaGuardia Community College and co-sponsored by Councilmember Eric Gioia, drew more than 40 western Queens residents, most of whom were seeking citizenship.
“A lot of people are in a position where they can’t afford an attorney or they don’t know where to turn,” said Gioia, adding, “It’s very stressful to not have enough money to pay for a lawyer and to do government paperwork that is very complicated and high stakes. If you fill out a question in the wrong way, you are afraid you will be forced out of the country.”
Gioia said that he sponsored the event so that immigrants could get the help they need and an “equal shot.”
Permanent residents brought their documentation with them and received advice on completing their applications, as well as a free passport photo.
They were met by a team of 20 Immigration Project staff members and volunteers - attorneys, paralegals and administrative assistants with paralegal experience - who helped them fill out the forms and explained about recent rate hikes to the citizenship application process. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) raised the application for naturalization from $400 to $675 on July 30, 2007.
However, some applicants are eligible for a fee waiver, if they can demonstrate low income and other financial hardship.
Gashi said that the organization chose to hold the event at LaGuardia because applicants could also be referred to the college’s immigration center.
“We wanted to target western Queens and we also thought that we would be able to reach both the students and the community at once,” Gashi said.
Two of the other CUNY immigration centers in Queens are at York College in Jamaica and in Flushing. The organization is also planning another event, tentatively scheduled for Saturday, October 20 in Flushing or Bayside.
For immigration questions and assistance, call the CUNY Citizenship and Immigration Project at 646-344-7245, to be directed to the appropriate immigration center.

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