Promise Arizona Helps Migrants Become U.S. Citizens

Published: Sunday, December 16, 2018 - 12:58pm
Updated: Sunday, December 16, 2018 - 1:02pm
Audio icon Download mp3 (1.08 MB)
Bridget Dowd/KJZZ
Manuel Gutierrez (left) goes over forms for becoming a U.S. citizen.

Promise Arizona (PAZ) is an organization that aims to promote the power of the Latino community in the state. The group hosted a workshop Saturday to help migrants apply for citizenship and teach them about related programs.

Project coordinator Manuel Gutierrez said the free event, offered twice a month, helps migrants fill out the 20-page form for citizenship.

“After that, we review it with the person and before he submits it, we have pro bono lawyers that will review it,” Gutierrez said. “We have a second round of review just to make sure that everything looks fine and he won’t have any problems when the time of the interview comes for him to become a citizen.”  

With everything going on at the border recently, PAZ has received more calls from people trying to improve their immigration status.

“They are on a visa and they want to become residents or residents and become citizens to be more sure that nothing will happen to them with their current immigration status,” Gutierrez said.  “But at the same time, we see that people are scared to deal anything with immigration and government.”

That fear is often generated by a lack of information. Gutierrez said people don’t always know that if they’re over 55 and have been a permanent resident for 15 years, they can take the test for citizenship in their native language.

The Trump administration has considered implementing something that would keep people who are not yet permanent residents from using public resources like food stamps or health care.

“People think if they are already using that, they are ineligible to become citizens,” Gutierrez said. “They already have been [permanent residents] for so many years, paying their taxes, and part of their taxes they’re paying to Social Security. So it’s their right to use those public resources.”

Gutierrez is also on his way to becoming a U.S. citizen after coming to the U.S. during college on a scholarship. He moved to Washington, D.C., for an internship with The Washington Center.

“I haven’t completed the five years as a permanent resident,” he said. “So I’m still not eligible, but I’m working here because I want to help the community and learn the process for myself so when the time comes, I’m prepared to take this huge step to become a U.S. citizen.”

As a member of the LGBT community, Gutierrez wasn’t comfortable in Mexico where he grew up.

“I see, every day, discrimination to LGBT people over there,” Gutierrez said. “It’s making its way toward becoming a more accepting society, but I still feel unsafe when I go there and definitely there’s a lot to improve.”

After his internship, Gutierrez was given an opportunity to work in Arizona on a visa. He said one of the toughest aspects is being away from family for so long.

“There are times when I cannot travel and we have to communicate through Skype or Whatsapp,” Gutierrez said. “It’s painful. But, most of my family, they have a tourist visa, so they can come visit me.”

Gutierrez has completed two master’s programs in Arizona, one in global development and another in nonprofit management. He wants to continue helping others with immigration issues.

“I feel more confident about being myself here,” Gutierrez said. “It’s incredible to work with so many people, with so many different backgrounds, from different countries.”

If you like this story, Donate Now!