In 2007, the Massachusttts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC) named Lowell as one of 11 Gateway Cities in the Commonwealth, noting “For generations, these communities were home to industry that offered residents good jobs and a ‘gateway’ to the American Dream. ”
U.S. citizenship can be an important gateway towards that American Dream for immigrants, but for many newcomers to the United States, obtaining citizenship can be a daunting–and costly–proposition.
Enter Project Citizenship.
Project Citizenship, a Boston-based nonprofit, launched in 2014 as an organization specializing in helping permanent residents in Massachusetts and beyond overcome barriers to U.S. citizenship. As their website notes, every year, thousands of Massachusetts residents eligible to become citizens never apply–because of a variety of barriers.
One of the ways in which Project Citizenship has helped immigrants overcome these barriers and apply for citizenship is through community workshops in Boston or other area cities.
Approximately 25 percent of Lowell’s population is foreign born, so organizers had long wanted to host a workshop in the city.
Earlier this year Project Citizenship reached out to the Office of Mayor William Samaras about hosting their first public citizenship workshop in Lowell. Together with the assistance of the the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, the workshop was held on June 9th at the Lowell Senior Center.
June 9th was an exceedingly busy day in Lowell with a charity walkathon, Lowell National Historical Park’s 40th birthday, AcreFest, and the Portugese Flag Raising all taking place on that same Saturday, but Mayor Samaras was very happy to stop by the workshop for a few minutes and observe the process first hand.
Over the course of the morning and early afternoon, 68 prospective citizens worked with Project Citizenship’s team of volunteers on the application process. Of those, 43 were deemed to be eligible and completed the application.
The local residents represented 17 different countries of origin, Bhutan, Brazil, Burma, Cambodia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Mexico, Myanmar, Phillipines, Thailand, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
The majority of applicants were from Cambodia. The CMAA and Project Citizenship have had a successful working relationship for several years now, and CMAA regularly offers citizenship application services at their School St headquarters. The group recognized Project Citizenship as their nonprofit partner of the year at the 2017 CMAA Gala.
Applying for citizenship comes with a $725 fee. Project Citizenship helps eligible clients apply for fee waivers. 72% of applicants at the Lowell workshop were eligible for the waiver.
Helping to organize the Lowell workshop was Erik Finn, a Lowell native and graduate of Lowell High School during Mayor Samaras’s tenure as the headmaster. Erik is working with Project Citizenship as an Americorps fellow and his involvement in the project was recently featured in an article in the Lowell Sun.
Both the mayor’s office and Project Citizenship viewed the event as a huge success and there are plans to host another workshop in the city in a few months.