The Waiting Game of Immigration
“After 14 years, I can say I am a resident of the United States! And all of it was thanks to your help!”
– Catrina, Immigration Services client
Kathy Hinshaw, CNNC staff member, opened her mail one morning in December to see this note from a client.
Originally from Peru, Catrina has been in the United States with her husband for so long she has forgotten the beauty of her homeland. Without legal permanent residency, also known as a green card, she has not been able to travel home to visit her family or take in the breathtaking vistas. Unfortunately, Catrina’s story of the waiting-game is all too familiar for Kathy and many other immigrants living in our community.
As one of our newer programs, many people do not know that the CNNC provides low-cost, high quality legal immigration services. When the program first started two and half years ago, Refugees applying to adjust their status and become Legal Permanent Residents would wait just a couple months. Now, according to Janet Johnson, the Immigration Program Manager and one of CNNC’s two Department of Justice (DOJ) accredited staff, some clients are waiting close to two years for their green cards, particularly for men coming from Syria, Iraq, Sudan, and Somalia.
The CNNC Immigration Services Program provides assistance with immigration matters at a low cost to residents in the greater Greensboro area. While neither Kathy nor Janet commit the entirety of their full-time positions to the program, numerous individuals and families, like Catrina’s, have benefited from their valuable work. In addition to assisting clients in applying for legal permanent residency, CNNC offers assistance with naturalization, family immigration, affidavits of support, fiancé(e) petitions, and other immigration matters.
Over the last year and a half, the Immigration Services program has seen some big changes at the federal level. Fees associated with the process of naturalization have increased and the applications have more than doubled in length. Adjudicating immigration applications at the federal level are implementing stricter interpretation of federal policy. The longer applications reflect a shift to conduct an more extensive background check of the applicant including a more thorough examination of family members connected to the applicant.
These changes have made an already complex, lengthy, and expensive process even more prohibitive for most newcomers. In order for an individual to apply for U.S. citizenship, they need to be a permanent resident for at least five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen). An applicant must pass a test based on U.S. civics and history, including a reading and writing section. An applicant cannot have a serious criminal record, and must have “good moral character” for at least five years, as determined by a U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) officer. The $725 application fee paid to USCIS does not include the CNNC fee. While there are fee waivers or reduced fees that individuals and families can apply for, these waivers are based on income.
Due to a variety of reasons, the capacity to provide immigration services in our local community has shrunk over the last two years, while changes at the federal level have significantly increased numbers of those wanting to apply. The national discourse surrounding immigration has played a strong role in growing the need for our services. Over the long-term, the CNNC hopes to expand the types of services offered and increase the number of people the program assists, so more people like Catrina can make it through the waiting game, and call Greensboro and the United States their new home.