Project Citizenship began as the Greater Boston Citizenship Initiative, a collaboration of community partners in Massachusetts seeking to increase naturalization rates throughout the state. The Fish Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization with a long-standing commitment to serving immigrant communities, formed the Initiative in 2011. With the assistance of Root Cause, the Foundation developed a program that brought together six community organizations focused on immigrant issues. These original community partners were Centro Latino, College Bound Dorchester, Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC), Irish International Immigrant Center (IIIC), Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers (MAPS), and Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition. The goal of the Initiative was to educate immigrants about the benefits of citizenship, and to make the services and resources accessible to eligible legal permanent residents (LPRs) in order to overcome the barriers to naturalization.
Between 2011 and 2014, the Initiative grew not only in number of partners, but also in geographic scope. In 2013, CVC Unido became a GBCI community partner, and 2014 welcomed the additions of Agencia ALPHA, Ascentria Care Alliance (formerly Lutheran Social Services), Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, East Boston Ecumenical Community Council, International Institute of New England-Lowell, and the Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center. Naturalization workshops also reached new eligible applicants as we expanded beyond greater Boston into Lowell, Worcester, and Providence, Rhode Island. Immigration attorney, Eric Lockwood, served as a legal resource for GBCI in 2013 and 2014, and provided a tremendous amount of support and oversight to the collaboration while working at the Irish International Immigrant Center (IIIC).
In early 2014, the Foundation and GBCI staff members engaged in strategic planning to determine how to continue and strengthen the Initiative’s impact. After much consideration and deliberation, the decision was made that GBCI should incorporate and become an independent entity in order to continue to focus on its exclusive mission of increasing naturalization rates in Massachusetts and beyond. At the same time, GBCI partnered with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) to provide training, consultation, and support to GBCI and its partner organizations, and in particular, to provide the needed training for GBCI and its community partners to obtain recognition and accreditation from the Board of Immigration Appeals. GBCI incorporated in July 2014. Third Sector New England became fiscal sponsor for GBCI in August 2014.
On September 20, 2014, GBCI, together with the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians and the Department of Health and Human Services, planned and orchestrated the first ever Citizenship Day in Boston. Applicants from 34 countries attended the event, which was held at five different Boston Centers for Youth and Families in the neighborhoods of Dorchester, East Boston, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, and Roxbury. Media partner Clear Channel featured the event on two billboards on Route 93 and at Logan airport, and media partner Univision held a two hour telethon during which more than 140 callers from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Florida expressed interest in citizenship. Over 200 people registered for Citizenship Day in Boston and by the end of the day on September 20, more than 100 applicants completed their citizenship applications. Goodwin Procter served as pro bono partner for Citizenship Day, with 25 attorneys volunteering to meet with applicants and review applications and supporting documentation. To honor Goodwin Procter’s commitment to the community, the City of Boston honored the firm with the Community Champion Award at the We Are Boston Gala in December 2014.
GBCI became Project Citizenship in January 2015. Project Citizenship has two attorneys on staff, a dedicated Program Manager, and a number of committed high school, college, and law school interns. Project Citizenship’s pro bono partnerships are significant and vital to its ability to provide free legal services to immigrant communities. Goodwin Procter continues to provide unprecedented pro bono assistance to Project Citizenship through citizenship workshops, Citizenship Day, trainings, and pro bono representation. Ropes and Gray provided invaluable pro bono legal representation for Project Citizenship’s incorporation, pursuit of nonprofit status, as well as for the name change and other corporate matters. Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, Mintz Levin, Wilmer Hale and other in house counsel provide support and pro bono representation for citizenship applicants whose cases require specialized attention.