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How 3 cities are tackling immigration

As we work together on comprehensive immigration reform and the full integration of immigrants, mayors across the country are asking: How can more residents in my city find pathways to economic prosperity?

Forging an inclusive, safe city is our job and our duty.

One strategy that the three of us have committed to is assisting eligible immigrants to become citizens.

Immigrants from 25 countries participate in a naturalization ceremony.
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Immigrants from 25 countries participate in a naturalization ceremony.

There are currently 8.8 million legal permanent residents in America who are eligible for citizenship – 52 percent of whom are low-income – but who fail to complete the naturalization process because of legal, financial, administrative and/or information hurdles. Yet, their naturalization would provide access to better paying jobs (up to an 11-percent increase to their personal earnings), academic scholarships, and the opportunity to vote.

We know that the transition to citizenship opens access to more stable finances, enabling immigrants to build a stronger financial identity alongside their national identity. Naturalized citizens are four times as likely to have a bank account.


Immigrants contribute in countless ways to the social and economic diversity and dynamism of our cities. The full participation of eligible legal permanent residents will make our cities even more vibrant.

That's why we have joined the national Cities for Citizenship campaign, initiated by our colleagues, the mayors of New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, with the Center for Popular Democracy and the National Partnership for New Americans, and the support of Citigroup.

Cities for Citizenship promotes the expansion of naturalization and financial empowerment programs nationwide, boosting economic opportunity for more of our residents. It is a public-private partnership that leverages the strengths of various sectors to make our cities stronger. In just one year since launching last September, almost 20 cities have already joined the campaign and we hope more of our counterparts will sign up.


Supporting immigrants is not only the right thing to do; it is also good for business.

In the weeks around Sept. 17, Citizenship Day, we'll be joining cities across the country to advance this effort.

In San Francisco later this month, the SF Pathways to Citizenship Initiative will host its 15th Citizenship Workshop, providing free legal, application and fee-waiver assistance to eligible applicants for citizenship. This private, public, nonprofit partnership with the city has reached over one million Bay-area residents and potential new citizens in the last two years.

San Jose, USCIS, the San Jose Earthquakes and Citi Community Development recently hosted a naturalization ceremony at Avaya Stadium, just before a match between the Earthquakes and the Seattle Sounders. The celebration kicked off Cities for Citizenship in the city. In addition, the city and non-profit partners are hosting a Citizenship Day Resource Fair at the City Hall Rotunda for eligible citizenship applicants.

In Seattle, financial empowerment and citizenship are embedded into the curriculum of the City's Ready to Work program serving the least proficient adult English language learners (ELLs). Ready to Work was launched this past summer to serve the unmet needs of adult ELLs in the city and to provide job-training opportunities to help them gain economic self-sufficiency. The city and USCIS are also launching "Citizenship Corners" in libraries and other public venues to strengthen citizenship-awareness efforts.

Commentary by Ed Lee, mayor of San Francisco, Sam Liccardo, mayor of San Jose and Ed Murray, mayor of Seattle. Follow them on Twitter @mayoredlee, @sliccardo and @MayorEdMurray.