Immigrants ready to apply for U.S. citizenship can get free accredited legal advice and screening at the Manchester Citizenship Center, a pilot project that begins Oct. 29.
“We’re trying to support people who want to naturalize by giving them free legal consultation,” said Cathy Chesley, director of Catholic Charities New Hampshire’s Office of Immigration and Refugee Services.
“People understand how important it is to be a citizen. Being a citizen raises you up. It gives you an opportunity for a higher-paying job. People fare better overall – health wise and economically,” added Chesley, who is also an attorney who specializes in immigration law.
The International Institute of New England-Manchester, New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, and the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success are collaborating with Catholic Charities NH to host the free clinics. The program is being offered through Welcoming Manchester, a consortium of non-profit organizations that promotes immigrant integration in the general community.
The clinics will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on six Saturdays beginning Oct. 29 at the International Institute of New Hampshire, 1850 Elm St. Other clinics will be held Nov. 19, Dec. 17, March 25, April 29 and May 20.
It is intended for those who can speak, read and write English and are prepared to pass the civics test required by U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services.
Pre-registration is required. Call 603-624-4747 ext. 17 to register.
“It is just an amazing opportunity for them,” said Amadou Hamady, who is site director of the International Institute of New England-Manchester.
“They can come and get legal assistance, screening and guidance on how to prepare their applications well so they don’t have to worry about mistakes that usually delay them,” he added.
Applying for citizenship can be expensive given the fees and cost of legal advice, Hamady said. As a result, many immigrants try to navigate the process on their own, or may rely on notarios.
“Notarios act like lawyers, but they are not legitimate lawyers. They take advantage of a lot of people. Sometimes, they don’t even submit the paperwork to immigration. Sometimes they do it, and do it wrong,” Chesley said.
Catholic Charities NH’s accredited legal advocates and attorneys will provide the legal assistance at the immigration clinics, she said.
“Our goal is to help as many people as possible,” Chesley said. “We hope to not only continue it, but expand it.”
The Manchester Citizenship Center received funding from the Norwin S. and Elizabeth N. Bean Foundation.
Welcoming Manchester received support from the Endowment for Health and New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.
Catholic Charities New Hampshire is one of the largest, private, non-profit human service organizations in the state. See www.cc-nh.org for more information.