SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA) — An immigrant activist group received a significant grant to help permanent legal residents become citizens. As a bonus, the grant inducted two Arkansas cities into a national initiative that promotes the cause.
Arkansas United was awarded a two-year grant worth tens of thousands of dollars from “America is Home.” The organization will use it to pay for legal fees associated with naturalization. Fort Smith and Little Rock became the first Arkansas cities inducted into “Cities for Citizenship,” a national group of more than 85 cities that aim to increase citizenship for legal permanent residents.
Arisbeth Johnson is the program director for the NWA chapter of Arkansas United, and she said the grant will pay for citizenship application processing fees and lawyers. She said the organization has a goal to naturalize at least 600 residents in the next two years.
“Now, I can feel the change in the community, that really [citizenship] is important,” Johnson said. “It’s important that they have the chance to do it, they want to do it, and it’s awesome that we can help the people, and they can feel safe.”
State Sen. Bart Hester (R) said moving toward citizenship for permanent residents is something both major political parties can get behind. He said the state’s 3% unemployment rate and thousands of vacant jobs mean the state needs more workers, and this will bring more citizens into the workforce.
“I think it’s a great day,” Hester said. “When they go through that process, we hope that their intent’s right, we hope that their background’s been checked, and then they’re people that we want here, paying taxes, working right alongside us because we need their help.”
Johnson said the grant should bring more permanent residents who weren’t sure if citizenship was worth the time and effort.