A New Gateway to Citizenship

As we prepare to celebrate July 4th and the great civil liberties of our country, there’s never been a better time to spread the word about a wonderful service available to those interested in becoming a U.S. citizen. Thanks to a recent partnership between the Los Angeles Public Library, the City of Los Angeles, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (U.S.C.I.S.), over 700,000 Los Angeles residents who are eligible for citizenship have a new resource to help guide them through the naturalization process. Starting last September, “Citizenship Zones,” were established at all 73 locations of the Los Angeles Public Library to provide patrons with essential information about becoming U.S. citizens. These zones offer extensive free materials, from application forms and test brochures, to multi-lingual books and DVDs, civics and vocabulary flashcards, to guides on the benefits and responsibilities of being a citizen.

Positioned as the gateway to America, Los Angeles was the perfect place to launch this pilot partnership. “More immigrants start here than anywhere else. We have over 3,000,000 people and 700,000 are eligible for citizenship–they meet the requirements and they just have to fill out the forms, take the test, and pay the fee,” explains Cheryl Collins, director of Branch Library Services. “The Los Angeles Public Library is the most trusted institution across 73 neighborhoods, so we are everywhere to help.” To kick-off the initiative, U.S.C.I.S. trained over 100 LAPL personnel on “Citizenship 101” to equip librarians to confidently answer a range of complex questions on citizenship.

To reach wider communities across the city, the LAPL has also teamed up with trusted local non-profit groups such as Catholic Charities, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center to provide training and counsel.

This collaboration model between a government agency, non-profits, and a public library is the first of its kind. It is already finding such overwhelming success that the U.S.C.I.S. plans to duplicate the program with the Chicago Public Library. Just this week, City Librarian John Szabo presented at the American Library Association Conference in Chicago, sharing about how the LAPL has created a template for providing a successful path to citizenship that can be expanded to other parts of the country.

The initiative is a core part of Szabo’s vision to further enhance the Los Angeles Public Library’s role as a touchstone of democracy across the community—a free and open place that people can turn to for support on issues from healthcare, to finances, to education. Thus far, the LAPL is already hearing of individuals who have successfully reached citizenship status through the guidance of the Library, and the number is sure to rise.

Visit lapl.org/citizenship to learn more, or stop by any LAPL branch.

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