‘Immigration is a journey'

SVCF donors, staff volunteer at Citizenship Day to assist Silicon Valley immigrants

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More than 1,460 immigrants gathered on a rainy April Saturday in San Jose, all pursuing the same thing: U.S. citizenship. 

As lawful permanent residents with green cards, many of those at the event have lived and worked in the United States for years. But without U.S. citizenship, they can’t vote. They can’t obtain a U.S. passport to travel freely outside the country. They can’t hold certain government jobs or access some government benefits, like grants and scholarships. 

But at the Citizenship Day workshop at San Jose City College on April 8, hundreds of these immigrants completed their citizenship applications and others moved forward on the path toward becoming U.S. citizens, thanks to the free assistance provided by volunteers and legal professionals. 

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“Immigration is a journey,” said Sandi Thompson, an SVCF donor who has volunteered at several Citizenship Day events and uses her expertise as an attorney to regularly help immigrants with their legal needs. “Many of our families have been on that journey – in my family’s case it was in the late 1800s. Now, I sit with people whose journey is very contemporary. I’m hearing their life stories and retelling them on a government application.”

The workshop was organized by Services Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN), a collaborative that SVCF supports through our immigration services grants. SVCF, along with other organizations*, partnered with SIREN to make the workshop possible. 

Throughout the day, immigrants learned about the requirements for citizenship, and met with volunteers and legal professionals who helped them navigate the arduous citizenship application process – in 14 different languages. 

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SVCF donors, staff contributed as volunteers

SVCF organized a group of 18 donors and staff members to volunteer at the Citizenship Day workshop. 

SVCF’s Senior Vice President of Investments, Bert Feuss, was among the volunteers. He recalled how his grandparents immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island, underneath the watchful eye of the Statue of Liberty.

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SVCF's Bert Feuss, senior vice president of investments, helped three individuals with their citizenship paperwork at the workshop on April 8.

“There are multiple generations of immigrants in my family tree,” he said. “Being a volunteer on Citizenship Day helped me appreciate the challenges of becoming a citizen.”

He said he was struck by the complexity of the citizenship forms; each application required an hour or more to complete. 

“It would be very difficult for anyone, let alone a non-native English speaker, to understand all the legal terms, definitions and subtleties of the paperwork,” he said. “Community services agencies and workshops like this one provide a valuable service.” 

As a volunteer, Bert helped three individuals who had all been living in the United States for decades. Each had children who were U.S. citizens. Similarly, Sandi helped one man who had been in the U.S. for 30 years, she said, but who now wanted to move forward with citizenship to make his status permanent and secure.

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Sandi Thompson, an SVCF donor, volunteered at Citizenship Day to help immigrants from Silicon Valley move closer to becoming U.S. citizens.

“We know that immigrants are the fabric of our nation and that our economy doesn’t work without them,” she said. “Usually, if you help one person with an immigration status issue, you help an entire family.”

SVCF strengthens commitment to helping immigrants

Supporting our community’s immigrants is one of SVCF’s highest priorities. Since 2009, our discretionary grants have supported legal and educational services for immigrants, with more than $14.2 million in SVCF grants going to nonprofit organizations working on these initiatives in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. 

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We recognize that the current political climate has highlighted the need for increased services for our immigrant population. Here are some ways SVCF is working right now to do that: 

These initiatives, combined with the ongoing work of our nonprofit partners to offer immigration services and events like Citizenship Day, will help support local immigrants and ensure our community thrives. 

*Thanks to the following organizations that supported Citizenship Day 2017: