By Avery Wood
A citizenship workshop was held in Desert Hot Springs on Saturday, June 10 to assist local permanent residents through the process of applying for citizenship. The organization that hosted it, Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM), is based in Los Angeles with a chapter in the Coachella Valley. “COFEM in the past, in the Coachella Valley, has been more focused on Coachella Valley Unified School District [and] parent engagement,” says Coachella Valley Programs Coordinator Neftali Galarza. The organization has recently added more events. “In January we started hosting a series of ‘Know Your Rights’ workshops and… since February we’ve hosted monthly citizenship clinics,” he says. COFEM “is dedicated to civic engagement in the Latino community,” according to Galarza, and the goal of events like these is to help Latinos have a voice within their community by becoming citizens, after which they can vote and feel empowered to participate in their community.
To participate, potential applicants schedule an appointment. During scheduling, they are informed of what information and documents that they will need to fill out the application, “For example, how many times they’ve traveled internationally in the last five years, we’ve got to make sure people know that… so they come prepared,” Galarza notes.
When a potential applicant shows up, they are given a pre-screening that includes an intake form so the organization can determine whether or not they can assist the person. According to Galarza, there are certain things that can become obstacles to obtaining citizenship, such as a criminal record, and the person is then directed to an attorney. Megan Beaman, an attorney from La Quinta, is often in attendance. If they are not directed to the attorney, the applicant is moved to the next step, which is filling out the N-400 form. A volunteer is there to fill out the 20 page form and then the applicant is asked to review it for accuracy. This takes about an hour and a half. If the applicant qualifies as low-income, they are given the option to apply for a waiver of the $725 application fee. The last step is for the volunteers to review the information once more and then package it to send out.
The process might seem complicated to some, but the biggest obstacle that Galarza hears about is the price. “I think the biggest roadblock is the money but it’s an investment that needs to be made… but when there are two or three people per household who want to do it, that’s a big roadblock,” but Galarza encourages people to apply for citizenship if they are able and notes that the requirements are 5 years of residency and being at least 18 years old.
Though COFEM is nonpartisan, Galarza says that many applicants have decided to apply for citizenship after seeing President Trump issue an executive order that affected the reentry of permanent residents to the country.
The next workshop is planned for July 8 in Cathedral City, though a venue has not yet been chosen.
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