Santa Clara County and non-profit groups in San Jose announced on Tuesday a series of free workshops to make it easier for about 190,000 county residents with permanent work visas to apply for American citizenship.
At a news conference, Bruce Wagstaff, director of the county's Department of Social Services, said that the agency will hold the first free workshop on Thursday to help "reduce the barriers" for green card holders to become citizens.
"Santa Clara County is the most diverse county," Wagstaff said. "Two of every three residents is an immigrant or a child of an immigrant."
The workshops will help those with green cards, which allow them to work and live permanently in the United States, fill out the federal citizenship application and perhaps reduce or waive the $680 application fee that some find hard to meet, Wagstaff said.
Some low-income immigrants are paying lawyers and application companies $500 to $3,000 to submit their applications for them, said Vanessa Sandoval, a spokeswoman for the San Jose-based immigrant rights group SIREN.
To seek citizenship, applicants must fill out a detailed, 10-page N-400 Naturalization form that for instance requires them to list all travel out of the U.S. going back five years, Sandoval said.
"It's a very complicated and discouraging process," Sandoval said. "If they don't have that information, they are discouraged to apply."
The free event on Thursday, with the collaboration of county employees and representatives of SIREN, the Asian Law Alliance and other non-profits, will be able to process 200 to 350 aspiring citizens at once, Sandoval said.
San Jose City Councilman Xavier Campos said that even though about 190,000 county residents with green cards have the qualifications to be citizens, only about 14,000 are naturalized per year.
Many with green cards mention the high application fee for citizenship as a factor and others have fallen victim to unscrupulous application services that do not fulfill their promise to help them obtain citizenship.
"There are folks that are preying on their trust," Campos said. "We need to start selling this around the community that this option is out there."
The free citizenship workshop, open to those with green cards, will start at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Calworks Employment Development Building, 1879 Senter Road in San Jose.
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