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Dozens of Yakima County residents apply for citizenship with the help of nonprofit – Yakima Herald-Republic

A volunteer with OneAmerica instructs a handful of applicants on what to expect as their appointment with an immigration attorney nears. Applicants were there as part of OneAmerica’s Citizenship Day event on the Yakima Valley College campus on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.
Idalia Hernandez, left, and Adriana Paredes fill out their citizenship applications while waiting for further instructions inside the Deccio Building on the Yakima Valley College campus on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.
Evangelina Piñon listens intently as immigration attorney Erin Zipfel and Monica Romero-Castro, citizenship coordinator for Nuestra Casa, discuss the details of her application. Piñon visited the Yakima Valley College Campus on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, to get help filling out her citizenship application. 
RFA/Health Care Access Reporter
A volunteer with OneAmerica instructs a handful of applicants on what to expect as their appointment with an immigration attorney nears. Applicants were there as part of OneAmerica’s Citizenship Day event on the Yakima Valley College campus on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.
More than 30 immigrants with permanent resident status got all the help they needed to apply for their U.S citizenship on Saturday in Yakima with the help of volunteers, paralegals and lawyers.
The hallways of the Deccio Building on the Yakima Valley College campus were filled with people looking to give and get help applying for their citizenship during an event put on by OneAmerica, a Seattle-based nonprofit that’s active in the Yakima Valley.
In the U.S., there are an estimated 9.1 million individuals with a lawful permanent resident status. According to OneAmerica, approximately 210,000 of these individuals reside in Washington and are eligible to apply for citizenship.
Despite the high number of individuals eligible to apply, barriers like wait times, lack of legal knowledge or assistance, access to important documents and language barriers keep many people from applying.
Audel Ramirez, a community organizer for OneAmerica, said before applicants are faced with some of these challenges, just beginning the process can be a daunting task.
“It’s a very complex process because it goes into a deep history of your last five years of employment, living, addresses, questions about your background, your family’s background,” Ramirez said. “Even gathering that amount of information can hinder someone from applying.”
Saturday’s application event in Yakima took place on National Citizenship Day. Volunteer lawyers and paralegals spent hours walking people through the next steps of the application process.
Longtime Yakima County resident Evangelina Piñon was able to apply for citizenship after years of waiting with the help of immigration attorney Erin Zipfel and Nuestra Casa citizenship coordinator Monica Romero-Castro.
Evangelina Piñon listens intently as immigration attorney Erin Zipfel and Monica Romero-Castro, citizenship coordinator for Nuestra Casa, discuss the details of her application. Piñon visited the Yakima Valley College Campus on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, to get help filling out her citizenship application. 
“It’s good to have these types of services available. I’m not great with English and I have a hard time organizing all the forms we have to fill out and keeping track of the information I need. It looks like here things are a lot easier,” Piñon said.
Others, like Maria Armentas Santos, felt the same way. Though immigrants with a permanent resident status can apply for citizenship after five years, Santos has been waiting 20 years to apply.
“For me, it’s really important having people who can help me fill out the paperwork,” Santos said.
Beyond that, Santos is waiting to meet the criteria necessary for residents to do their citizenship interview in their native language.
Sometimes referred to as the 50/20 waiver, residents older than 50 with more than 20 years as a legal resident are eligible for special accommodations that make applying easier.
“When you don’t understand everything you need to do to apply, it can be difficult. I wasn’t just waiting to live here long enough. I also just hadn’t had an opportunity like this where I am being offered help for free,” Santos said.
Applying for citizenship can be costly. On top of the $725 application fee from U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services, oftentimes those looking to apply have to pay attorney costs to navigate the process and make sure forms are filled out correctly.
Idalia Hernandez, left, and Adriana Paredes fill out their citizenship applications while waiting for further instructions inside the Deccio Building on the Yakima Valley College campus on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.
Fees vary greatly, but on average, services can cost applicants $1,500 to $4,000.
Aside from the expenses, the time necessary to gather the right documentation, fill out the application and wait for it to be processed can take months, if not years.
For migrant workers or people who make minimum wage, the uncertainty that comes with moving around constantly or not being able to afford application fees can delay the process.
“The process varies from person to person depending on the complexity of their own case but it can take anywhere from three months all the way out to two or three years. It’s a lot more simple for people who have been residing in one place for a long time. The more complex people’s lives get, the more they move, the more complex the process will be,” Ramirez said.
Though last year’s Citizenship Day didn’t happen because of the pandemic, Ramirez said OneAmerica will be having two annual events. One event is being planned for spring 2023, with the date to be determined.
Residents interested in immigration services, including help applying for citizenship, can visit the OneAmerica website or call at 206-723-2203.
Santiago Ochoa’s reporting for the Yakima Herald-Republic is possible with support from Report for America and community members through the Yakima Valley Community Fund. For information on republishing, email news@yakimaherald.com.
RFA/Health Care Access Reporter
Santiago Ochoa is a bilingual journalist covering health care access at the Yakima Herald-Republic in Yakima, Washington. Before joining the Herald, Ochoa reported for Flint Beat in Flint, Michigan, covering the city’s Latino population—health care, education, community building and more, and winning top honors in the Michigan Press Association’s feature category. He served as photographer and later editor for his college newspaper, The Michigan Times. When he’s not working, Ochoa enjoys cross-country trips on his motorcycle, going to the movies, reading and skiing. 
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