VANCOUVER, Wash. - Several hundred people lined up in three Washington cities this weekend at free clinics to learn more about becoming United States citizens. About 160,000 Washington residents are already in the nation legally and are eligible for citizenship. However, the naturalization program that formerly assisted them has been eliminated due to state budget cuts, and another program, "Washington New Americans," also faces cuts.
Attorney Lisa Seifert, Olympia, is one of dozens of lawyers and translators who donate time to the clinics. She says the citizenship form and instructions are complex and lengthy.
"It can be very difficult - it's not very intuitive, for example - and if you are from a different culture, have a different language, good luck! Things should be easier than they are. People frequently need help."
Seifert says gaining citizenship may only take a few months, if the paperwork is done correctly. At these events, she says they do not often see people who are in the U.S. illegally, but they also do not encourage everyone to apply.
"We do see people who have challenges with their eligibility issues. Actually, those are probably the most important people we see, because we tell 'em not
Last Saturday's "Citizenship Day" clinics took place in Des Moines, Mount Vernon and Vancouver. The next clinics will be scheduled for April in Bellingham, Centralia and Wenatchee. The immigrants' rights group OneAmerica and the American Immigration Lawyers Association organize the events.
More information about the clinics and the citizenship process is available at www.wanewamericans.org.