With the general election just around the corner, rhetoric is heating up on both sides of the aisle regarding hot-button issues like immigration. Water for Ishmael, a local Christian non-profit, is diving into the debate with real solutions for Toledo-area immigrant families.
Executive Director of Water for Ishmael, Janelle Metzger, says that an upcoming pilot program to help local immigrants become American citizens eschews all possible controversy.
“Naturalization tends to be a very strongly supported bipartisan issue— everyone really believes that America is a nation of immigrants and that people should [be able to] become citizens,” she says.
Water for Ishmael has partnered with ABLE, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, and Adelante, the local Latino Resource Center, to make naturalized citizenship a reality. Metzger notes that Adelante is particularly important because of Toledo’s Latino population, who explains that “there’s a lot of people in the Latino community who are eligible to become citizens and they just haven’t for one reason or another.”
This program is working to remove the financial and logistical barriers that may have stopped them in the past.
Assistance from ABLE and Adelante makes the path to citizenship through Water for Ishmael’s program as smooth as possible. Water for Ishmael will provide English classes and well as instruction to complete the citizenship interview and testing, and their partner organizations will help with logistics.
Although instruction is free of charge, the $680 fee to apply for citizenship may be difficult for some applicants to pay. Metzger says that those with a low income may be eligible for a fee waiver through ABLE, as the organization will also help those applying file the necessary, sometimes confusing, citizenship paperwork with the government. For those with children and/or limited mobility, Adelante will be available to assist with childcare and transportation to ensure success in the citizenship classes.
The citizenship program, launching this fall, is only a pilot program— a test-run to hopefully lay the foundation for a broader community impact. Water for Ishmael received a grant of over $20,000 from the Toledo Community Foundation for their work, but to move on after this first cycle, they’ll need to attract federal grant money. “There is some federal funding available, but it’s limited and competitive,” says Metzger.
With limited spots available in the pilot program, the most important thing is making sure that potential applicants meet the strict criteria set up by the government for becoming a naturalized citizen. Potential candidates for the program must be lawful permanent residents of at least 18 years of age who have been in the country legally for five years. Metzger notes that the program can’t help everybody, “If they don’t fit that criteria, then [unfortunately] this particular program will not be for them.”
Water for Ishmael is about inclusivity. For immigrants in the community, “We’re really excited to be able to offer this to the community. We want immigrants to be naturalized, vote and be parts of the democratic process, serve on juries, and do all the things that citizens do,” says Metzger.
For more information on how to help or seek naturalized citizenship yourself, contact Water for Ishmael directly, and watch their Facebook page for more information about this fall’s program. 419-720-8089. waterforishmael.org