Interview with Dr. Mitra K. Shavarini, Executive Director, Project Citizenship
Did you know that only 10% of the 8.8 million eligible immigrants will apply for US citizenship? Citizenship is a vital resource that strengthens our democracy, our economy, and our communities. Conversely, millions of immigrants are missing out on the numerous benefits of citizenship. PC targets this population, identifying potential eligible immigrants and helping them navigate the process.
PC’s mission is personal to its Executive Director, Dr. Mitra K. Shavarini, who was born in Iran and was 9 years old when her family emigrated to the US. It took her family 17 years to become citizens.
The path to citizenship was a long, expensive, and bureaucratic journey. Mitra recalls the toll it took on her father, who feared throughout the process that they would be sent back to Iran. Because of this experience, Mitra understands that applying for citizenship poses financial, emotional, and psychological burdens. For her, citizenship is about belonging, something she is eager to share with every eligible future citizen.
Mitra is grateful for TPC’s continued funding, telling us this about TPC’s impact on PC and the people it serves: “Not only does TPC assist us financially, but our liaisons are our thought partners. I am grateful for the wealth of knowledge they bring to the table. I also appreciate that TPC’s grant goes toward general operating expenses, freeing us to allocate funds as we deem necessary; 72% of our budget goes toward our programs.”
Can you tell us about how your work has impacted an individual, a family, or a community? What is most gratifying about your work?
We receive thank you notes, emails, and letters on a daily basis. The consistent impact that I see is one of relief. Relief that they no longer have to worry. Relief that they now belong.
Knowing that we are not only helping an immigrant who otherwise would not have the resources to reach the final destination in their immigrant journey, but we are also strengthening our communities and democracy. And perhaps the most pleasure I get from this job is knowing that our impact is multi-generational.
Mitra also introduced us to Jolly Kabatora, originally from Uganda, who told us about her experience. “I was scared when my time came to become a citizen of the US, but PC was so welcoming. They filled out those many papers with me. They gave me hope. Green Card holders, I ask you to come to PC for more information and help, as I was helped. I am proud to say that I am a US citizen today thanks to this great organization.”
Some Facts About Citizenship
The benefits of citizenship. The advantages of being a US citizen go well beyond the right to vote. They include living without the fear of deportation, gaining citizenship for children under 18, reunifying families, having access to government jobs, and traveling with the security of a US. In addition, immigrants who become naturalized citizens see their earnings increase by 8% to 11%.
The benefits extend to the entire fabric of the US. Immigrants have built America: they fill jobs, increase economic output, and pay taxes. In fact, 41% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants!
Citizenship allows immigrants to invest fully in American democracy and our future. The increased earning power of new citizens pours billions of extra dollars into the local economy and is also invested in their communities: educating their children, buying homes, and starting businesses.
About the naturalization process. To qualify for naturalization, an immigrant must be in possession of a Green Card for five years. To start the process, an applicant must first overcome any fears they may have of immigration officials, then pay a fee of $725 and complete a complicated, 20-page application. The applicant must then pass two exams – an English language and a civics exam.
Seventh Annual Citizenship Day: March 26
On March 26, PC will hold its seventh annual Citizenship Day, and you can volunteer to help. Volunteers will help eligible future citizens complete the 20-page citizenship application, which is the first major step in the process of becoming a US citizen. Through Citizenship Day, PC and the City of Boston raise awareness about the benefits of naturalization, eligibility to become a citizen, and the availability of PC’s free legal services.
This will be PC’s first return to in-person workshops since the pandemic began, albeit with Covid-19 protocols in place. You can register to volunteer at https://projectcitizenship.org/citday2022-volunteerregistration/ or email McKenzie Bell to learn more.
More About PC/Other Ways To Get Involved
Approximately 300,000 Massachusetts residents could qualify for citizenship, but only a small percentage apply. PC works to increase the naturalization rate by identifying future citizens and helping them overcome the barriers to naturalization.
Before the pandemic, PC helped approximately 2,000 applicants annually to become naturalized citizens. While working online due to Covid-19, PC has helped 1,500 applicants over each of the last two years. Applicants represent 130 countries; 70% are low-income; 95% are people of color; and 73% are essential front-line workers.
PC offers free workshops, eligibility screening, application assistance, legal referrals, and assistance with fee and language waivers. Volunteers help applicants gather information and complete necessary paperwork. Volunteer attorneys and PC staff check the paperwork and help applicants deal with any unusual challenges. In addition, PC works collaboratively with community-based partners throughout Massachusetts who offer civics instruction, ESOL classes, and a wide range of support services.