The Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) center on Parker Street continued its new program of helping immigrants apply for their American citizenship during Citizenship Day on Sept. 13.
That was ABCD’s third Citizenship Day, a program started in April to process the extensive backlog of citizenship applicants seeking ABCD’s help. Sixty-five prospective citizens filled out their applications, and many requested waivers for the $680 application fee, which often is an insurmountable hurdle to their naturalization.
“Our waiting list for citizenship services is well over 300, so we decided to do Citizenship Day to try to process as many applications as possible in one day,” ABCD Executive Director Milagros Arbaje-Thomas said.
At-large City Councilor Felix Arroyo also addressed the crowd at the event and reminded immigrants to have a voice in the electoral process.
Since April, ABCD Parker Hill/Fenway Neighborhood Service Center, located at 714 Parker St., has helped 239 people apply for citizenship. Of those, 90 percent have been approved for the fee waiver. It has also helped about 50 people who are elderly, illiterate or have disabilities to apply for a medical exemption that would excuse them from the English and civics test usually required for citizenship.
“After hosting three major events at ABCD Parker Hill/Fenway, I believe we are a well-oiled machine when it comes to hosting a major event for immigrants,” Arbaje-Thomas said.
Jamaica Plain resident Jean Carlos Peña, a citizenship applicant originally from the Dominican Republic who benefited from ABCD’s August Citizenship Day, is now just waiting to hear back and schedule his interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“My aunt is already a citizen,” he said. “She filed in July. In August, she did her fingerprinting and in September, she had her interview. She’s a citizen now, two days after passing her test.”
An immigrant becomes a citizen following a swearing-in ceremony that takes place after all the paperwork and interviews are in order.
“ABCD has seen a great need for this service across the different neighborhoods we serve and we are looking to expand this program,” Arbaje-Thomas said.
Volunteers from the New England School of Law, Beth Israel DeaconnessMedical Center and Harvard Kennedy School of Government students assisted ABCD staff in filling out applications.
Arbaje-Thomas is herself an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who went through her own struggles to stay in this country and almost could not go to college due to her immigration status. She first had the idea for Citizenship Day three years ago.
“I am overjoyed at the success of this program and at ABCD’s ability to be able to offer this service to the immigrant community,” she said. “Hundreds of clients have become citizens through our help. I am very pleased to be able to provide these comprehensive services under one roof.”
ABCD provides immigration services year-round by appointment. It can be reached at 617-445-6000 or at parkerhillfenway.org.