WSLC’s next Citizenship Clinic will be Sept. 30 in Seattle
YAKIMA (Sept. 20, 2023) — Immigration is a labor issue. From warehouses to the fields, bad bosses weaponize immigration status to divide workers against one another and to silence workers who advocate for themselves.
Anything that divides our solidarity as working people is a direct attack on worker power. And so long as employers can use the precarious situation of immigrant workers to stifle organizing, all workers lose.
Recognizing this, the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO launched an innovative program in August 2020 offering naturalization legal services for union members. This program, based in the Yakima Valley and led by DOJ-certified Community, Union & Naturalization Organizer Dulce Gutiérrez, works with legal permanent residents to navigate the process to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Legal permanent residents have a government-recognized immigration status, and many have been in the U.S. for years, if not decades. This means that many of these workers have the language skills, general knowledge, and financial means to become a citizen – but there are few affordable options for assistance navigating the citizenship process.
Dedicated advocates at nonprofits like the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) provide legal support services – but there are simply more folks who need support than there are providers. And with continued deportations tearing families apart, immigrants who are not facing immediate disaster often are stuck in limbo waiting months for help.
Per Gutiérrez, “Legal permanent residents were waiting three, four, sometimes up to six months in line to be provided with a consultation and assisted with their naturalization application. And for many union members who are legal permanent residents, the only barrier to starting the naturalization process is this wait time. They’re ready to go, but they don’t have the service made available to them.”
This is the gap that the WSLC’s naturalization program fills, in partnership with community organization Nuestra Casa. Legal permanent resident union members can contact organizer Dulce Gutiérrez or Nuestra Casa for a consultation appointment to begin the process. Consultation fees are $10, and the fee for completion of a naturalization application is $100.
Launched during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program regularly runs citizenship clinics for union members.
The next clinic is coming up on Saturday, Sept. 30 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the WSLC Office, 321 16th Ave S. in Seattle. Interested workers should email Dulce Gutiérrez to secure their spot and to ensure they have everything in hand for a successful appointment. Another clinic will be offered in December.
At its core, this naturalization work is an organizing strategy, one of many ways that we win economic and social justice in tandem – and how we demonstrate the value of union membership to workers.
For Gutiérrez, forging an unbreakable connection between unions and access to citizenship is part of the goal.
“Eventually people will end up thinking of unions as another way they are able to become citizens,” she said. “Just like people think of unions as a layer of protection from being exploited by their bosses, I hope working people one day think, ‘unions care about citizenship, so I’m going to go to my union and I’m going to get my citizenship with the union’s help.’”
WSLC Wednesdays is a feature of The Stand where different departments of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO describe their recent activities and the services they are providing to WSLC-affiliated unions.