Building Ballot Box Strength Through Citizenship

May 17, 2016 -- Jamie Way

Affiliate OCCORD has been helping Orange County residents through the naturalization process for more than seven years, but 2016 has truly highlighted the importance and strength of the citizenship program.

On April 9th, more than 1,000 aspiring citizens came to Santa Ana’s Southwest Senior Center for assistance with their applications from OCCORD’s volunteers and its legal partners. Nearly 500 legal permanent residents completed the process despite rain and long lines, and 350 volunteers lent their assistance. Not only was April’s fair the biggest citizenship fair to date, but it also kicked off a new partnership between OCCORD and the City of Santa Ana, home to Orange County’s biggest immigrant population.

OCCORD’s citizenship program is a critical part of a long­-term strategy for lifting up the voices of immigrant and working class communities in Orange County. Not only does the group organize and advocate to change the policy landscape in Orange County, but it also works to increase civic participation among low-propensity immigrant voters. New citizens become voters, grassroots leaders and organizers themselves. Several of OCCORD’s lead volunteers first came into contact with the organization as citizenship applicants themselves.

In the past year, many immigrant residents have been galvanized to seek permanent citizenship by the toxic anti­-immigrant rhetoric now in popular discourse. More-and-more applicants have expressed an explicit desire to stand up for their community. Demand for OCCORD’s naturalization services has skyrocketed and the program’s reach is growing. Others are beginning to emulate their success. OCCORD’s citizenship organizer Andres Rivera, an alumnus of the citizenship program, was recently sent to Nevada to help jumpstart citizenship drives there.

Since the start of 2016, OCCORD’s citizenship program has helped nearly 1,100 people complete applications through their free application services, educational materials, citizenship classes, fee waivers and legal advice. OCCORD is continuing its efforts by calling past participants to help them register to vote.

Nothing changes someone’s life quite like citizenship and nothing is going to change Orange County like the right to vote in our communities.