News » Local

HRC Helps Immigrants Apply for Citizenship

by Megan Barnes

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday July 15, 2011

Dozens of volunteers from the nation's largest LGBT rights organization will join activists in six cities across the country to help eligible immigrants apply for citizenship and eventually secure the right to vote.

This is the Human Rights Campaign's third year participating in the national ya es hora campaign, which mobilizes volunteers to conduct naturalization workshops where documented residents get advice on becoming citizens and assistance filling out paperwork.

HRC is partnering with volunteers from a host of immigration advocacy groups in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Calif., Denver, Dallas and New York during July. HRC is the only national LGBT group on board and the leader of the Las Vegas and San Diego coalitions.

"The Latino/a, immigrant, and LGBT communities have common hopes and dreams and face a common set of challenges," said Cuc Vu, chief diversity officer at HRC. "Ya es hora provides an opportunity for us to all come together to build stronger, more united communities, and HRC is proud to be a part of this powerful national coalition since joining the ya es hora campaign in 2009."

Difficulties filling out the citizenship application and coming up with its $680 non-refundable fee are just some obstacles aspiring citizens face. Volunteers have one-on-one meetings with applicants to help them get started on a path to citizenship and the ultimate goal of being a part of the American political process.

But the sit-downs and the organizing behind them play another important role in the fight for equal rights-an opportunity to build bridges and understanding between marginalized communities who have more in common than they may know.

"I believe something we both feel in our communities is the shame and having to hide who we are by virtue of our identities being considered less than and not deserving of the dignity that we deserve as human beings," added Hyacinth Alvaran, diversity program associate at HRC. "Also, what these workshops have really been able to do for us is give us the opportunity to have conversations around full equality, including marriage equality."

She recalled an HRC volunteer in Las Vegas sharing about how she was unable to visit her partner in the hospital because they were not legally spouses. "Greater understanding between the challenges that immigrants and LGBT people face is changing hearts and minds in both communities," said Vu.

Ya es hora launched in 2006 and is sponsored by a host of national partners including the Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, NALEO Educational Fund, National Council of La Raza, Service Employees International Union, Entravision Communications, ImpreMedia and Univision.

HRC has worked with the campaign since 2009, assisting hundreds in naturalization workshops in 16 cities as well as voter registration and census drives. The organization also took a stand against Arizona's controversial immigration law, Senate Bill 1070.

Organizers say engaging the quickly growing Latino and immigrant populations in the voting process is vital for the equal rights movement. "We are providing a vital service that will strengthen not only Nevada, but fulfill our mission to work across our different communities to achieve the American Dream for LGBT people and immigrants, that often means being fully enfranchised as US citizens with all the rights and responsibilities," said Vu.

Workshops are scheduled to take place in Las Vegas and Long Beach on Saturday, July 16, Denver on Saturday, July 23, and in Dallas and New York City on Saturday, July 30. A workshop has already taken place in Phoenix. Log onto www.hrc.org/issues/13702.htm for more information.

Megan Barnes is a freelance journalist in Los Angeles. She regularly contributes to EDGE, San Pedro Today and was a founding editor of alternative UCSB newspaper The Bottom Line. More of her work can be found at www.megbarnes.com