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Pandemic Insecurity, Fee Increases Prod More Immigrants to Miami-Dade's Citizenship Mega-Clinic

Jose A. Iglesias
El Nuevo Herald
New U.S citizens being naturalized this past summer at a federal immigration facility in West Kendall.

Feeling unusually vulnerable, hundreds of eligible immigrants are set to attend the Miami-Dade County Office of New Americans citizenship prep this week.

Pandemic disruptions like travel restrictions have made things more uncertain for immigrants in the U.S. Not surprisingly, more of them who are eligible for citizenship are seeking it this year — especially in Miami-Dade County.

So a relatively new county agency — the Office of New Americans — is holding a virtual Mega Citizenship Clinic Wednesday through Saturday. Hundreds are expected to attend.

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The office's executive director, Krystina Francois, says a big driver of the online event is the fact that citizenship application fees will rise some 80 percent starting this month — from $640 to $1,170 (or $1,160 if done online).

“We really doubled down to have a big four-day clinic to be able to get as many people to submit their application before the fee increase,” Francois said.

"We have more than 140 legal volunteers for this clinic. A hundred percent of the applications will be done by an attorney."

But Francois says the citizenship urgency is more about immigrants realizing how much and how quickly things have changed for them during the COVID-19 crisis.

“One of the largest lessons that we learned in 2020 has been that citizenship confers safety and security," she said. "Since COVID started, we’ve had 53 immigration policy changes. And for the first time, green-card holders really felt vulnerable. So it was really a wake-up call.”

Applicants can register for the mega-clinic at the Office of New Americans website or by phone at 888-839-8682.

The clinic is part of the agency’s Miami Citizenship Week events.