Your Path to Citizenship Start at LAPL
Los Angeles Public Library, Calif.
Los Angeles is a city of immigrants. Of the City’s 3,800,000 residents more than 700,000 are permanent residents eligible for citizenship. Many of these permanent residents do not know where to begin to start the process. The cost, paperwork, testing procedures and unfamiliarity with the English language are often barriers that prevent people from applying. Many are vulnerable to unscrupulous agencies that charge high fees to help them process their paperwork. The City is fortunate to have a large number of non-profit organizations working with the immigrant communities to try to meet their needs, but there is no central place to bring services together. Non-profit organizations have limited access to venues where programming and assistance can be offered, and their limited number of outlets makes reaching a significant number of people difficult. The Los Angeles Public Library is a trusted institution in 73 communities around the city. The partnership between the Library, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), and non-profit organizations with expertise in immigrant needs is a natural alliance to meet the needs of the community.
The City of Los Angeles entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with USCIS to provide citizenship outreach services throughout Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Public Library is the lead City department in this effort. To accomplish this task, LAPL joined the California Community Foundation Task Force on Citizenship and Immigration and the Mayor’s office to reach out to this underserved population. The library has been the key mover in this process. The establishment of “Citizenship Corners” in all 73 library locations that provide information and resources, meeting room space, and access to study materials, as well as a robust and information rich website, has established LAPL as the starting point on a person’s personal path to citizenship. Two things have been especially important to the success of this program: staff education and positive, open relationships with our partners. The USCIS has helped library staff understand the needs of potential citizens and has given the staff a real sense of ownership of this program. The framing of citizenship as a citywide initiative has opened doors for LAPL with potential partners and has helped us to reach a new market of library users.
The citizenship initiative started on September 21, 2012. Between that time and March 2013, over 2,700 people have attended citizenship programs at the Library, and over 7,000 people have accessed the citizenship portion of the website. We have made citizenship education part of our regular services in order to help as many eligible people as possible reach their citizenship goal. We are also attracting new library users through this program, and they are finding out about the vast array of services that LAPL provides for all members of their family. This program has established a framework for both the Los Angeles Public Library and USCIS. For the Library it has shown us how to build a successful citywide outreach effort utilizing staff training and partnership building. For USCIS it has developed guidelines to establish library partnerships. The success of Los Angeles has given USCIS the tools they need to launch a Los Angeles model program in Chicago later this year. Los Angeles Public Library anticipates assisting thousands more on their path to citizenship.