Getting more people into the citizenship application process requires a whole-of-government approach that includes outreach to underserved communities and even distributing naturalization information to permanent residents through CBP at ports of entry, says the Interagency Strategy for Promoting Naturalization.
The strategy released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was required by President Biden’s Feb. 2 executive order stating that “the Federal Government should develop welcoming strategies that promote integration, inclusion, and citizenship, and it should embrace the full participation of the newest Americans in our democracy.”
The Naturalization Working Group tasked with drafting the national strategy to promote naturalization was composed of the departments of Homeland Security, Education, Health and Human Services, State, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Defense, Justice, Veterans Affairs, and Agriculture, along with the Social Security Administration. Stated goals of the group were to raise “awareness of the importance of citizenship,” “promote civic integration and inclusion,” give immigrants “opportunities and tools to become fully engaged citizens,” help communities achieve the capacity to “prepare immigrants for citizenship,” eliminate “sources of fear and other barriers that prevent individuals from accessing available naturalization services,” and ensure “equity throughout the citizenship and naturalization processes” including outreach to traditionally underserved communities.
The national strategy is intended to be implemented at the community level utilizing data about populations potentially eligible for naturalization, a public education campaign about citizenship and promotion of available resource materials, outreach through mediums such as traditional and social media, engagement with stakeholders and forging new partnerships, and the USCIS Outstanding Americans by Choice (which highlights significant achievements of naturalized citizens and essential workers in the COVID-19 pandemic) and Citizenship and Integration Grant Program (which is looking to expand public-private partnerships) initiatives.
The strategy notes that some departments hit by hiring freezes or pandemic-related restrictions could face challenges achieving strategic goals, but “as the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, we will seek to responsibly hold in-person events and to use the creative solutions we have already been employing to connect with communities using technology.”
The citizenship education and awareness campaign — employing messaging from community organizations, citizenship advocacy groups, embassies and consulates, businesses, and media — will target legal permanent residents and those in the process of acquiring LPR status. A special focus will be placed on strengthening outreach initiatives to refugees and those granted asylum, agricultural workers, and those who have had legal permanent residency for more than 10 years but have not gotten on the path to citizenship.
But outreach won’t be limited to LPRs. The strategy says messages developed by DHS and USCIS should also be targeted to “people earlier in their immigration journeys to reach those who may one day become eligible for naturalization” and “may not know that they could become LPRs.” Immigration judges at the Justice Department Executive Office for Immigration Review “can be trained to inform noncitizens who will be eligible to naturalize how they can do so and refer them to resources for applying for citizenship.”
Outreach will include partnering with state and local governments in communities with large percentages of LPRs, using direct communication such as GovDelivery to connect with target groups, conducting naturalization information sessions, and working through the USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement Networks. DHS and USCIS “will develop tools so that individuals can request notification regarding key milestones in their immigration journey, including when they may become eligible to apply to naturalize.”
Museums and libraries will also receive increased support from DHS and USCIS to create or expand “citizenship corners, which can include special collections and exhibits to promote America’s immigrant heritage and naturalization information and resources.”
USCIS will also re-establish its partnership with the National Park Service “to hold naturalization ceremonies in meaningful locations throughout the country and consider developing educational materials related to relevant park sites to promote further civic learning.” A partnership between DHS and the Education Department will support the strategy in part by supporting professional development of AEFLA’s Integrated English Literacy and Civics Education teachers on naturalization and civic education.
As part of expanded collaboration among agencies, Customs and Border Protection and USCIS “will seek to distribute information on naturalization to LPRs at ports of entry,” while DHS and the State Department will “explore the feasibility of developing approved messaging language regarding dual citizenship — which many countries permit — to reassure potential applicants who may be hesitant to apply for naturalization due to concerns about potential loss of their birth citizenship.” While promoting citizenship through the U.S. Postal Service with resource information at post offices and potential new stamps highlighting naturalized citizens, USCIS will also “explore whether the post office could make informational materials or citizenship forms available.”
DHS will work with the Social Security Administration to automate the Social Security number application process for noncitizens applying for citizenship or residency. “Automating this process would provide a potential universe of approximately 1.3 million individuals each year the opportunity to conduct business with both DHS/USCIS and SSA simultaneously and eliminate the need for them to visit a field office or card center to apply for a SSN card,” the strategy notes.
Citizenship materials are currently printed in six languages other than English — Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Tagalog, Korean, and Vietnamese — and DHS will review immigrant population sizes and other factors to determine potential additional languages for publication. USCIS, which is in the middle of a years-long massive digital modernization effort, will also “explore ways to improve the digital delivery of citizenship-related content and resources including optimizing the online format of its publications.” The agency will also explore the creation of apps or other tools to help applicants prepare for the citizenship test, including developing video segments at national landmarks and historical locations pertinent to the civics exam.
Videos could also be developed featuring federal officials who could share their experiences as an immigrant or child of immigrants, or as someone who has worked to help immigrants. First lady Jill Biden, “who continues to work as an English and writing instructor, could encourage immigrants to learn English,” the strategy offers as an example.