A multi-million dollar advertisement campaign will be launched by the government to encourage more immigrants to become American citizens, officials have announced.
Multi-lingual print, radio and digital adverts will feature testimonials from immigrants born in China, Mexico, Vietnam and other countries, sharing their personal stories of success running businesses, educating their families and even running for office in America.
The huge campaign–the first of its kind–aims to reach roughly 7.9 million immigrants eligible to apply to for citizenship in an effort to make them integrate with the general public. Sceptics, however, argue that with little real incentive for immigrants to become citizens, the adverts will be costly but ineffective.
The campaign, which will run primarily in California, New York, Florida and Texas between May 30 and Labor Day, aims to put citizenship in the forefront of immigrants’ minds.
It will run in English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese, providing inspirational stories of assimilation before pointing immigrants to a government web site where they can download application forms and materials to help them study for a citizenship test.
It is thought many immigrants do not apply for citizenship because they fear their English is not good enough or simply see no practical reason to do so.
‘You’ve got to create that sense of urgency, and until they’ve reached that sense of urgency, they’ll just coast,’ said Nathan Stiefel, division chief of policy and programs for the Office of Citizenship at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
It is the first time the immigration agency has launched a paid advertising campaign to promote American citizenship, said Mariana Gitomer, an agency spokeswoman.
The effort, which will cost $3.5 million over three years, is part of an $11 million allotment by Congress to encourage greater immigrant integration.
About 64 percent of immigrants naturalise and it takes them on average nine-and-a-half years to apply to do so, Stiefel said.
‘I think that communities run much better–a neighbourhood, a city, a county, a state, a country–when the people who live there actually have a full stake in what goes on there,’ said Tomas Jimenez, assistant professor of sociology at Stanford University.
More than 700,000 immigrants applied to become U.S. citizens in the last fiscal year, up 25 percent from a year earlier, according to Citizenship and Immigration Services statistics.
Immigrants may apply to become U.S. citizens if they have a green card for five years, show good moral character and pass English and civics tests.
Those are married to U.S. citizens may be able to apply sooner. Citizens can vote, travel with an American passport, serve on a jury and sponsor more family members to join them in the United States.
Advertisements might help reach immigrants who are on the fence about becoming citizens, said Thomas Donahoe, citizenship coordinator at the Orange Education Center in California, though he questioned whether they’ would be spurred to action.
On a day-to-day basis, many immigrants don’t feel much of a difference exists between having a green card and being a citizen–except perhaps when elections roll around and they can’t vote, critics said.
Sonia Gomez, an administrative secretary, came to America from Mexico when she was one year old and uses a green card.
Aside from when she visits relatives in Mexico and needs her passport, the 39-year-old said she doesn’t think much about her citizenship.
‘It is a fleeting thought in my mind,” said Gomez, of Orange, California. ‘It just pops up every now and then, and then it just goes away.’