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Citizenship drive stirs urge to vote

Immigrants want to be a part of U.S.

POSTED: November 8, 2007 9:13 a.m.
Andres Muniz answered each question about his eligibility to become an American citizen with "no."

No, he has not avoided paying taxes. No, he has not made false statements to get his green card. No, he is not a terrorist.

Muniz, 51, a legal immigrant from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, has lived in the United States since 1977. On Saturday, the air conditioning worker decided to take the first steps toward citizenship at the offices of Catholic Social Services in the Gainesville Community Center on Prior Street. Muniz was one of several permanent legal residents taking part in the organization’s bi-annual citizenship drive. He said heard about it on a Spanish-language radio station.

"I want to vote," Muniz said in English when asked why he was seeking citizenship. "I have lived here a very long time, and I want to be a part of this great nation."

Federal immigration officials estimate there are 8 million legal immigrants like Muniz in the country who are eligible for citizenship.

Until recently, many have been content to live and work in the U.S. with a valid green card without applying for citizenship, said Susan Colussy, an immigration lawyer with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

"They felt safe in putting it off, but I think now people are a little more concerned," Colussy said. "They want to feel more secure in their (immigration) status because of the raids and the anti-immigration sentiment."

Muniz said there are more legal residents eligible for citizenship than people might realize.

"There are more people qualified to be (citizens)," he said.

Muniz, whose 17-year-old son attends Johnson High School, says citizenship would make the simple experience of sitting in the stands at sporting events different for him.

"When I am sitting with my sons and they raise that flag, I want it to be my flag," he said.

Citizenship isn’t free. Applicants who came in Saturday were asked to bring their green card, two photographs and $675. That amount covers an application fee that jumped from $400 at the end of July.

Volunteer immigration attorneys went over the forms and possible citizenship exam questions one-on-one with applicants Saturday, providing assistance with the paperwork, but no legal advice. All applications for citizenship must be mailed.

"We try to make sure they understand and have everything they need," Colussy said.

Saturday’s drive in Gainesville brought out perhaps a dozen people. A similar event in March had more than 30 applicants show up.



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