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"Mega Citizenship" Event Lent A Hand To Migrants In Palm Beach, Broward And Miami-Dade

Holly Pretsky
Efraín Alcazar, 65, is from Peru and finished his application for US citizenship Saturday."

The N-400 application, the application for US citizenship, is 20 pages long. There are a lot of questions that require a lot of detail. The process can be daunting, especially for people for whom English still isn't totally familiar.

These are challenges that Catholic Legal Services' "Mega Citizenship" event tried to address this past weekend in  14 different locations across Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. Each location was staffed with volunteers trained to help with the N-400. Many of them were attorneys.

Randy McGrorty, Executive Director of  Catholic Legal Services,  said they hoped to make the event  more accessible to a variety of communities by sending volunteers to different sites in three counties. This was the event's fourth year. Last year it was held at Marlins Park.  He estimates nearly 300 people offered their time and talents to help participants. 

"I've been really grateful in the outpouring of volunteer support for this," he said. 

Manju Kalidindi, an attorney in private practice, spent her Saturday  volunteering at N.A.N.A.Y., a community center in North Miami. She says she's noticed an increase in people applying for citizenship since Donald Trump was elected. 

Credit Holly Pretsky
Attorneys Marcus Tan and Manju Kalidindi volunteered at N.A.N.A.Y.

"N-400's have been increasing," she says. "I think it just gives some peace of mind that you're a US citizen. You can't get kicked out of the country with all this rhetoric going on."

Kalidindi says often the reason people put off applying for citizenship is the cost. With background checks and fingerprinting,  it can cost more than $700.

In Hollywood, the event was held at Hispanic Unity of Florida's Casa Sanjuan Education Center. Antoine Habib Bij-Kebbe Magamez, a handyman, spent about an hour with a volunteer there. He was born in Syria, but grew up in Venezuela. 

He says one of the reasons he wants to become a citizen is so that he can participate politically. 

"Para poder eligir mi presidente, los alcaldes, todo el gobierno," he says. "In order to be able to choose my president, the mayors, everyone in government."

Chris and Chantal Cohen volunteered at the Casa Sanjuan Education Center, doing intake and making sure people had the correct forms. The couple have been married 10 years, and both are children of immigrants. 

Credit Holly Pretsky / WLRN
Chantal and Chris Cohen volunteered at Casa Sanjuan Education Center in Hollywood.

"Coming from an immigrant-based family, you want to help as much people as possible," said Chris  Cohen. 

Neither Chris nor Chantal Cohen had volunteered at an event like this before, but both say they hope to continue to do work like this. 

In Hialeah, at the Miami Dade College campus, Efraín Alcazar, 65, waited to have his application looked over by a lawyer. He's from Peru, and moved to the US in 2003. His wife and three children are all already citizens. He says his decision to apply now doesn't have anything to do with the president. 

"Ya que tengo años avanzados, me estoy quedando en este país, y quiero sacar mi ciudadanía," he said. "What with getting older, I'm staying in this country, and I want to obtain citizenship." 

Alcazar said he looks forward to being able to travel more easily between the US and Peru. 

Event organizer Randy McGrorty says he's pleased with the intimacy and individual attention afforded to people through spreading the event out over multiple locations. 

"I think that we're committed to keeping this model," he says. 

Want to see the questions/requirements of the citizenship form? Here is the N-400 form: