By Jun Nucum
SAN FRANCISCO – A newly naturalized Filipina stood out in a recent celebration of National Citizenship Month in San Francisco after proudly proclaiming that she fulfilled her dream of migrating to the United States and finally took her oath to become a naturalized citizen that exemplified the sentiments of thousands of other immigrants who achieved their same dream.
Originally from Batangas, an immigrant since 2009 and married to a non-Filipino, Chona Mendoza Bussani shared that she was a typical simple Filipina from the province who always wished to have a better future not just for herself but for her family as well by migrating to the U.S. , .
“Keep dreaming like I, an ordinary Filipina in our country, did. It is not an impossible dream to be in the U.S. and finally become a citizen although it may take some time to be one,” Bussani told her audience that included scores of newly naturalized citizens liked her. .
In an interview, Bussani intimated that she now has two children with her here in the U.S. one of whom became a citizen before her and another about to have her own citizenship interview.
“It took a longer time for me to become a naturalized citizen as I had to gather important papers from the Philippines. Besides, interview process took longer for they were done only through the phone due to the pandemic. It took me twice the time that it usually take to have the interview scheduled,” said Bussani .
The happy Filipina was just one of scores of new citizens who trooped to the San Francisco City Hall steps to join the citizenship month celebration that highlighted the successful journey of more than 10,000 San Franciscans who have been naturalized through the San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative.
Jointly organized and sponsored by the San Francisco Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs (OCEIA), Immigrant Rights Commission and the San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative, the event was held also to promote San Francisco’s innovative fee assistance program to make citizenship more accessible for those who cannot afford the fee.
The celebration was doubly significant as California has the highest number of newly naturalized citizens in the country, with more than 700,000 Californians naturalizing between 2016 and 2020 alone, according to a July 2022 report by the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA).
Nationally, the report estimates that newly naturalized citizens could reach over 5 million by the midterm elections, also according to the NPNA report.
The top ten states with highest number of newly naturalized citizens from 2016-2020 (actual numbers in parentheses) according to NPNA 2022 New America Voters Report are California (733,756), Florida (429,017), New York (402,904), Texas (343,799), New Jersey (177,890), Illinois (127,720), Massachusetts (120,403), Virginia (101,190), Georgia (96,469) and Maryland (89,165).
The top countries of origin for California’s new U.S. citizens are Philippines: 75,834; India: 54,755; China: 51,932
San Francisco has nearly 50,000 green card holders who are eligible to naturalize, according to estimates by the University of Southern California (USC) Dornsife Equity Research Institute.
With these figures, Acting OCEIA Director Richard Whipple urged those eligible to naturalize to take the necessary steps necessary to formalize their status as citizens and they can start by attending their free workshops that are open to anyone with connection to San Francisco like those who live in the Bay Area and can go to their events.
“It is very important for us to reach out to different racial communities and ethnicity considering San Francisco is a diverse city. Our coalition and San Francisco Pathway to Citizenship includes providers that speak twelve languages and part of our success is attributed to the fact that we are an organization trusted by the communities,” Whipple said.
Ask on the importance and benefits in becoming citizens, Whipple emphasized that naturalized citizens have the right to vote, better job opportunities, attain economic benefits for families and households and have the ability to travel more easily, among others.
Whipple also mentioned that there is a peak in interest to become a citizen before any election so they can vote.
Since its launch in 2013 by the City and local foundation partners, the San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative has:
Held 64 free workshops across the city,
Provided legal screenings to over 16,000 immigrants,
Saved applicants nearly $1.5 million in application fees, and
Helped more than 10,000 San Franciscans become U.S. citizens.
OCEIA Tagalog language specialist Raymond Bores echoed Whipple’s appeal for eligible immigrants to become citizens so they can avail of benefits not available to immigrant even as he acknowledged that there are those who would rather sit in the fence.
“Many are still at a lost on the steps to take so we offer free workshops to help them navigate the process. We can help them prepare for the test and interview aside from coming up with half of the amount needed for fees,” Borres stated as he cited that fear of failing the test and interviews aside from high fees collected were some of the reasons why some are hesitant in applying for citizenship.
Supervising attorney for Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach Greg Palomares revealed that there was a decline in application for citizenship during the Trump presidency because most people were afraid of the public interest charge.
“But right now, with President Biden at the helm, I can see that there is a rise in immigrant’s interest in applying for citizenship. Just the same, I encourage everyone to apply for naturalization especially those in the fence have pending petition for their sons and daughters,” Palomares said.
Palomares explained that applying for citizenship is not an obstacle to a pending petitioning for loved once and may even expedite the process through a change in their citizenship status.
To those green card holders intending to apply for citizenship, SF Pathways advises them to attend their free workshop by calling 415-662-8901 and leave a message to register