By Ali Noorani
This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post
Two-hundred-twenty-six years ago, the U.S. Constitutional Convention signed the document our nation looks to as a beacon for guidance on the toughest issues we face.
Sept. 17, “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day” gives us an opportunity to recognize and celebrate all who have become or aspire to become citizens of the United States, pledging to “support and defend the Constitution and law of the United States of America.”
On this Citizenship Day, we must recognize the many benefits citizenship brings to immigrants and to our country. We are a better place when immigrants follow through, become citizens and become fully accountable in our American democracy.
Naturalization also has clear economic benefits: According to a December study by the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California, income rises an average of 8 to 11 percent when immigrants become citizens. That boost has significant ripple effects for their children, their communities and the nation as a whole.
To encourage citizenship is to encourage a stronger American economy.
And as this Citizenship Day dawns, businesses in Miami, Los Angeles, San Jose and Washington, D.C., are realizing a different kind of citizenship benefit: the positive effects on work culture, productivity and publicity that result when they help their hardworking employees pursue their dreams of becoming full-fledged Americans.
Across sectors in these cities, businesses are participating in the Bethlehem Project, a win-win for businesses and their aspiring-citizen employees. A program of the National Immigration Forum and funded in large part by the New Americans Campaign, the project works with businesses to offer free citizenship help at the workplace. Local service providers step in to help with legal services and English and civics training for the citizenship application.
Just today, the Hyatt Regency Washington is launching its participation with a citizenship session for employees, while Baptist Health South Florida is adding a third participating location. These and other businesses recognize that for too many legal immigrants, the steps toward becoming a citizen are riddled with difficult, confusing and sometimes contradictory obstacles.
An application for citizenship costs around $2,700 out of pocket for a combination of legal assistance fees and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services application fee. In addition, long work hours and limited preparatory class availability can serve as deterrents for some aspiring citizens who otherwise would study for and take the mandatory verbal and written English tests and verbal civics assessment test.
What better day than Citizenship Day for businesses to recognize these obstacles and help their employees pursue their own dreams and contribute fully to our country.
And what better day for all of us to honor the mosaic of immigrants who make America great.
The men who signed our Constitution 226 years ago envisioned the United States of America as a land of opportunity. Today, businesses are seizing the opportunity to build on that vision—and our nation is stronger for it.
This post originally appeared in the Miami Herald
By Raquel Araujo-Escobar
Like many immigrants, I came to the United States dreaming of opportunity and the chance to become an American citizen. Unlike many immigrants, I can thank my employer for helping me realize both of these dreams.
Thanks to The Bethlehem Project, the InterContinental Miami and other businesses are offering free help with citizenship applications for workers who are eligible. The project is named for Bethlehem Steel, which in 1915 became one of the first employers in the United States to offer free English instruction to immigrants in its workforce.
I have been in this country for 15 years and although I could have applied for citizenship earlier, I just could not find the time and money to do so. When I heard about this great service at my job at the InterContinental, I registered right away and here I am today, a happy, proud and blessed American citizen.
For me, this was an important step because I feel that this country is my home, where I am blessed with a wonderful family. I feel proud to be an American, in a country with endless opportunities, one that is organized, clean and safe to live in. Here you can set a plan, work hard and see your dream come true.
Many of my co-workers and fellow participants in The Bethlehem Project had been in the United States much longer than I had and had struggled with some of the many hurdles involved with the citizenship process. All of us were eager to become Americans. But some of us couldn’t find the time between work and family to finish the daunting paperwork, and many of us could not afford the fees and lawyer costs.
I know it’s not uncommon to pay more than $2,700 and brave long preparatory classes outside of work hours to become a citizen, but The Bethlehem Project tore down those roadblocks for me.
Staff from the International Rescue Committee came to the hotel and helped us work through what once seemed like a tangled mess of confusing documents, time constraints and high costs by being our partners in the application process.
My journey to citizenship began during my lunch hour. After learning the ins and outs of the process from The Bethlehem Project presentation, I made an appointment with the International Rescue Committee.
I brought my paperwork and a check for the citizenship application fee to our meeting at the hotel. We completed my application, and I walked out with a package that I put in the mail that same day. Three weeks later, I was on my way to my fingerprinting appointment, and on May 10 I became one of the newest American citizens.
Instead of spending years confused and intimidated by the citizenship process, I had assistance every step of the way thanks to The Bethlehem Project, a project of the National Immigration Forum and local partners that is funded in large part by the New Americans Campaign. I feel so blessed to have had such a service provided to me right at my place of employment.
Just like Bethlehem Steel, the InterContinental recognized the importance of encouraging us to participate fully in American society. I am grateful that my hotel is one of the first participants in Miami and in the country, alongside The Betsy South Beach and the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association.
I came to this country because I believe in the American value of hard work and opportunity. Because of The Bethlehem Project, I feel as though my hard work has been rewarded in a very direct way: I am now a proud American citizen.
Raquel Araujo-Escobar of Miami is the engineering supervisor at the InterContinental Miami.
By Ali Noorani
This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post
Immigration reform is the hot topic on Capitol Hill these days, but some businesses are ahead of the curve. In Miami, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., these trailblazers are helping their eligible employees become citizens and fully participate in our society.
Thanks to the Bethlehem Project, legal permanent residents who are key parts of our workforce are getting an assist as they pursue their dreams of becoming full-fledged Americans. The project is named after Bethlehem Steel, one of the nation’s first employers to offer free English instruction to immigrants in its workforce.
Bethlehem Steel recognized in 1915 what we must continue to recognize today: We are a nation of immigrants. Successive generations have come to our country and integrated into society, embracing American freedom and opportunity through citizenship. Helping them do so reflects our commitment to the values that make America great.
Today 8.2 million legal permanent residents are eligible for citizenship, including more than 2.1 million in Miami and Los Angeles alone.
Aspiring Americans look forward to embracing our civic duty to vote and the opportunity to run for office. They already contribute to our workforce and economy, and citizenship encourages further investment in America. These opportunities, and the benefits our communities realize as a result, are what make America great.
Citizenship also helps families reunite and put down roots, which results in a multi-generational contribution to our society, economy and family structures.
But becoming a citizen isn’t easy. Roadblocks include cost, a time-consuming application process and limited access to education resources.
An application for citizenship costs around $2,700 out of pocket for a combination of legal assistance fees and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services application fee. In addition, aspiring citizens must pass both verbal and written English tests and a verbal civics assessment test. Long work hours and limited preparatory class availability can serve as roadblocks.
This is where the Bethlehem Project comes in. A program of the National Immigration Forum and funded in large part by the New Americans Campaign, the Bethlehem Project works with employers to offer free citizenship services right at the work site.
The project partners with exceptional service providers at the local level, such as the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and the International Rescue Committee, to offer citizenship application legal services and English and civics training. And local business partners support their employees’ pursuit of citizenship by providing meeting space and often paid leave time, opening the door for participants to submit applications and prepare for the interview process.
The Bethlehem Project is a winner not just for employees but for participating businesses. Without affecting an employer’s bottom line, it encourages diversity in the workforce, creates an inclusive work culture that aids productivity and generates positive publicity to boot. It also helps foster employee recruitment, loyalty and retention, and generates goodwill amid a growing foreign-born consumer demographic in a competitive market.
No wonder it is taking off. With the leadership of Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón, President of Miami Dade College, and Manny Diaz, former Mayor of Miami and Senior Partner at Lydecker | Diaz, the project launched nationally from Miami with the support of three founding business partners: the InterContinental Miami, The Betsy South Beach and Miami Dade College. Just since this April launch, seven more Miami businesses have signed on.
Several businesses in Los Angeles have shown interest as well, following the lead of American Apparel, which launched the project this month. Two partnerships in Washington, D.C., have recently launched, and San Jose, Calif., will follow soon.
Helping new Americans earn citizenship will profoundly impact these cities and our nation. As the immigration debate continues to ramp up in Congress and our politicians consider a new road to citizenship for aspiring Americans, the Bethlehem Project is working to remove barriers and make citizenship a possibility for those who are already on their way.
When immigration reform does pass, the need for innovative integration services will only increase. The Bethlehem Project is an important model for encouraging aspiring citizens who, as they pursue the American dream, will contribute even more to our communities and our country.
Ali Noorani is the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum
By Wendy Kallergis and Robert Hill
The Miami hospitality industry has long been a champion of hospitality and driver of employment, and we now have a prime opportunity to show a whole new kind of hospitality: by supporting our employees who aspire to become American citizens.
Several of our local hotels and the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association have joined The Bethlehem Project, a chance to be hospitality ambassadors within our community. The Bethlehem Project, a program of the National Immigration Forum, offers free services to businesses in order to assist their eligible employees in the citizenship process, right onsite.
Our neighbors include 520,000 South Floridians who are legal permanent residents, eligible to become U.S. Citizens today. We know many of them as valued employees in our extensive network of hotels and motels, and we are pleased to have the opportunity to assist them in becoming fully active members of our society.
The benefits of citizenship are extensive. They include the ability to travel with a U.S. passport, the opportunity for families to reunite, the responsibility to vote and opportunity to run for political office, and the full legal status that allows people to put down roots and contribute fully to our community and our country — with nothing holding them back.
However, becoming a citizen is not an easy process. An aspiring American often must spend more than $2,700 in legal assistance and application fees, as well as learn English and study for the civics exam. On top of all that, the application process is both long and time-consuming.
Enter The Bethlehem Project, which offers partnerships with trusted legal-service providers that allow applicants to save as much as $2,000 of these fees, and also provide English and civics training right at the worksite. The kicker: All of the Bethlehem Project’s benefits are completely free to the employer.
Business and citizenship is a win-win partnership. Beyond the important benefit of assisting employees to fully achieve the American dream, additional benefits for business include celebrating diversity in the workforce; boosting employee recruitment; building employee loyalty and retention; creating an inclusive work culture that aids productivity; generating goodwill amid a growing foreign-born consumer demographic in a competitive market; and creating positive publicity opportunities. Offering this excellent benefit to our employees does not affect our bottom line, which allows us to continue to compete as “choice-employers.”
We at the InterContinental Miami and the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association are excited to partner with the Bethlehem Project for this unique opportunity to offer hospitality to our own community and support to our employees. We have already begun to offer these services at the InterContinental® Miami and have recognized the many benefits to our team morale and company goals. Already, four colleagues are in the final stages of the citizenship process as a result of our partnership with the Bethlehem Project.
In addition, we are excited to announce the new addition of several local businesses: Trump International Beach Resort, Double Tree by Hilton, Hilton Bentley, Dream South Beach, and Shore Club. In total, 10 local hotels and organizations have joined us as Bethlehem Project partners and are active in this incredible opportunity for business and the community.
Wendy Kallergis is the CEO of the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association. Robert Hill is the General Manager of InterContinental® Miami.