Overcoming Barriers to Citizenship

Posted: 09/15/2015 5:43 pm EDT Updated: 09/15/2015 6:59 pm EDT

Later this week, to commemorate Citizenship Day on September 17, the Obama administration, members of Congress, and advocates across the country will draw attention to a startling fact: there are roughly 8.8 million eligible lawful permanent residents who are not naturalizing. Of these, approximately 2.7 million are of Mexican origin. Many of these aspiring new Americans have low levels of language proficiency and high levels of poverty.

The benefits of citizenship cannot be understated. In addition to voting rights, citizens tend to earn more than non-citizens, are eligible for government jobs, can travel outside the country with few restrictions, and are able to petition for family members to immigrate to the United States, too.

The clear upside of naturalization makes it all the more puzzling why eligible immigrants are not taking this step and are instead renewing their green cards. One thing is clear: consistently, lawful permanent residents indicate that they would become citizens if they could. A 2012 Pew Hispanic survey found that 96 percent of participating green card holders wanted to naturalize. Similarly, a 2014 Latino Decisions poll found immigrants were actively taking steps to become citizens; 62 percent have taken an English class and 46 percent have taken a course in American history and government. These numbers suggest systemic barriers are preventing many from becoming new Americans.

Financial Barriers


At $680 per application, the naturalization fee for many is prohibitively expensive. Time and again, immigrants identify the fee as a barrier. In the Pew Hispanic survey, 18 percent of respondents pointed to the high cost as preventing the submission of a citizenship application.

There are several fee-related issues that may also be discouraging citizenship. For example, until recently, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) did not acceptcredit card payments, forcing applicants to pay up front with no option for installments. Similarly, for families seeking to naturalize together, USCIS does not offer a family cap of any kind. Each application still costs the same amount. Finally, USCIS does not refund a payment if an application is rejected. For those concerned about other portions of the process, such as the English or civics tests, the potential loss of $680 is a disincentive.

In addition to the fee on its own and its relation to other barriers, it is possible that the lower fee to renew a green card makes the decision simple. Renewing lawful permanent residency only costs $450 and has less stringent requirements.

Simultaneously recognizing the challenge the fee poses, and that fees are USCIS’s sole revenue source, there have been steps recently to make citizenship more affordable and accessible. For example, as part of the president’s immigration actions in November 2014, he instructed USCIS to examine the feasibility of a partial fee waiver. The current fee waiver is eligible to applicants with incomes up to 150 percent federal poverty and takes care of the entire $680. An effort is underway to examine whether low-income applicants with slightly higher incomes could receive up to a 50 percent fee reduction. Given that the naturalization fee will almost certainly increase (it has not gone up in several years), expanding the fee waiver will be all the more important.

Language Barriers


In addition to financial barriers, many immigrants point to language as a reason for not applying for citizenship. In the same Pew Hispanic study, 26 percent of respondents identified language proficiency as a barrier and only 30 percent reported to speak English well or very well. For these immigrants, extra time is needed to reach a sufficient degree of proficiency to pass the English and civic portions of the application.

Many immigrants fear they may not pass the English or civics exam both because they underestimate their level of proficiency and lack of information about the specific requirements. The result is that eligible immigrants feel naturalization is more difficult than it truly is and that their applications would certainly be rejected.

Systemic challenges also factor into the language barrier. At all levels of government, funding for adult education has been limited in recent years. Many programs simply cannot serve all those in need. Furthermore, as the adult education system has shifted to focus increasingly more on contextualized English learning for work outcomes, citizenship preparation does not always fit into these models.

Resources Available


With the spotlight on citizenship this week, it is an opportune moment to highlight free and readily available resources from USCIS and the New Americans Campaign that may help eligible immigrants overcome identified barriers.

  1. USCIS offers a complete fee waiver for applicants with incomes of up to 150 percent federal poverty level. Additional information on the fee waiver:http://www.uscis.gov/feewaiver
  2. USCIS recently began accepting credit card payments.
  3. USCIS will waive the language proficiency requirement for certain older applicants. Additional information on the language waiver:http://www.uscis.gov/us-citizenship/citizenship-through-naturalization/exceptions-accommodations
  4. For additional materials on eligibility, required documents, and preparation materials: uscis.gov, www.newamericanscampaign.org,www.univisioncontigo.com/en

Clean Energy Summit 2015 | Don’t miss it!

Register Today for the Workforce Development, Training & Education Workshop:

“The Golden State is home to more than 40,000 businesses serving advanced energy markets, spanning the entire value chain and including a wide range of energy technologies that address both supply and demand.” -Advanced Energy Economy Institute, December 2014

“Investments in clean energy produce two to three times as many jobs per dollar as gas, oil or coal. And dollars invested in clean energy tend to stay in California, instead of other states or countries.” -Governor Jerry Brown, Clean Energy Jobs Plan



Diversifying Mainstream Environmental Groups Is Not Enough

by Robert D. Bullard and Robert García
NRPA (National Recreation & Parks Association) Parks & Recreation Magazine
Social Equity 2015 – 07 – 01

Transformational change is necessary to attain the world we seek and to modernize the environmental, climate and health movement. People of color and low-income people support environmental protection at a higher rate than non-Hispanic whites, but they are disproportionately harmed by environmental, climate and health impacts. Mainstream environmental nonprofits, foundations and government officials are not adequately engaging these communities and the groups that represent them. The most important thing grant makers can do is to provide unrestricted, long-term support to grassroots organizing groups that are pushing for racial and ethnic justice. The most important thing mainstream nonprofits can do is to comply with civil rights and environmental justice laws. We agree with Green 2.0, an initiative dedicated to increasing racial diversity across mainstream environmental NGOs, foundations and government agencies, on the need to diversify the boards and staffs of mainstream organizations. However, diversifying the mainstream groups is not enough.

According to Green 2.0, people of color make up 36 percent of the U.S. population, but they have not broken the 16 percent “green ceiling” in mainstream environmental organizations. The numbers are much lower on boards and in leadership positions, despite decades of calls for diversity.

Strategic foundation support has enabled the success of the environmental justice movement. Yet, the movement is still underfunded after three decades of proven victories. Constrained funding has made it difficult to build organizational infrastructure, community organizing, leadership development and effective participation in the policy and legal arena. Reliable, predictable and flexible multiyear core support for environmental justice, health and racial equity organizations is necessary for them to carry out their mission, respond to new challenges and opportunities, and serve the community.

There are structural obstacles to funding environmental justice and civil rights compliance. Studies show that the more committed a foundation is to the environment, the less likely it is to fund social justice. Foundations should invest at least 25 percent of their funds with communities of color and low-income communities, building on the civil rights movement to advance social justice through advocacy and organizing for structural change.

Recent articles conclude that mainstream organizations exacerbate, rather than alleviate, disparities in green access and funding in Southern California. Public and nonprofit expenditures are most strongly associated with race and ethnicity after controlling for population size. This reproduces disparities in health and park access, and makes it harder for organizations that work with underserved communities to get the job done.

Some mainstream environmental nonprofits commonly receive federal funding. Those that do must comply with civil rights and environmental justice laws and principles that prohibit intentional discrimination and unjustified discriminatory impacts, regardless of intent. Funding agencies should ensure compliance plans are developed, implemented and monitored to distribute equitably the benefits and burdens of environmental, climate and health policies and programs, and to guard against intentional discrimination and unjustified discriminatory impacts. Avenues for compliance include planning, data collection and analyses, review of funding applications, contractual assurances of compliance by recipients, self-evaluations and reviews, and termination or deferral of funding. Civil rights laws include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Affordable Care Act section 1557, the President’s Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice and health, and parallel state laws.

Environmental justice groups have been vital to the greening of Southern California during the past 15 years, for example. But, mainstream environmentalists receive vastly more funding, and many more are in a gold rush to open offices here to get funding from greening the Los Angeles River, the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and other projects. The risk is they will snatch up money and staff, take the credit, and drive out grassroots groups that make change possible. This is like the South after desegregation beginning in the late 1960s. When people were free to shop at white-owned or black-owned businesses, they generally shopped at white-owned stores and drove black-owned establishments out of business because of years of “internalized oppression” and the idea that “the white man’s ice is colder.” We do not want to repeat this sorry history with a diversity strategy focused solely on “integrating” people of color into white groups.

The civil rights revolution is based on multiple strategies to promote human dignity, equal access to public resources and just democracy, and to overcome discrimination. The civil rights revolution includes advocates in and out of court, decisions by courageous courts, grassroots organizing, legislation, action by the president, implementation by administrative agencies and people providing a mandate for civil rights through the right to vote.

We look forward to working with Green 2.0 to diversify mainstream organizations, diversify funding and ensure compliance with civil rights laws and principles. Working together, we can ensure that all shades of green are included in our environmental movement going forward.

Robert D. Bullard is the Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston. Robert García is the Founding Director and Counsel of The City Project, a nonprofit environmental justice and civil rights organization based in Los Angeles.

This column is available online or as an eZine and in the hard copy edition of NRPA’s Parks & Recreation Magazine (July 2015).


Robert García and Ariel Collins, Celebrate The Civil Rights Revolution: The Struggle Continues (The City Project Policy Report 2014)

Robert García and Ariel Collins, Climate Is a Civil Rights Issue as well as a Health, Economic, and Environmental Issue (The City Project Policy Brief 2014)

Michael Rodriguez, MD, MPH; Marc Brenman; Marianne Engelman Lado, JD; and Robert García, JD, Using Civil Rights Tools to Address Health Disparities (The City Project Policy Report 2014)

Sarah Hansen, Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders (National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy 2012)

Theda Skopcol, Naming the Problem: What It Will Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight against Global Warming, Prepared for the Symposium on the Politics of America’s Fight Against Global Warming (Jan. 2013)

P. Joassart-Marcelli et al., “Building the Healthy City: The Role of Non-profits in Creating Active Urban Parks,” 32 Urban Geography 682 (2011)

P. Joassart-Marcelli, “Leveling the Playing Field? Urban disparities in funding for local parks and recreation in the Los Angeles region” 42(5) 1174 Environment and Planning (2010)

Gavin Wright, Sharing the Prize: The Economics of the Civil Rights Revolution in the American South (2013)

See the statement by a diverse and growing alliance of environmental justice leaders, including Theresa Baker, African American National Parks Event; Anahuak Youth Sports Association; Dr. Robert D. Bullard; Robert García and The City Project; Randy Jurado Ertll,  CLEAN (California Latino Environmental Advocacy Network), Audrey Peterman, Earthwise Productions; Latino Coalition for a Healthy California; Rue Mapp, Outdoor Afro; Marc Brenman, Social Justice Consultancy.

Incentives Of Up To $12,000 In California To Get Low-Income People To Upgrade To Fuel-Efficient Cars From Gas Hogs

June 18th, 2015 by

Those living in certain parts of the state of California who qualify as low-income residents and have an old gas hog that pollutes heavily will now have the option of receiving up to $12,000 in subsidies to replace their old vehicle and purchase a cleaner, fuel-efficient vehicle, according to recent reports.

In cooperation with the California Air Resources Board, officials will be providing locals in the Greater Los Angeles and San Joaquin Valley areas with the sliding-scale retire-and-replace initiative. As one can no doubt guess considering the words “sliding-scale,” higher incentives are available to lower-income people/families than to higher-income ones.


While purchases of new fuel-efficient gas-powered cars, hybrids, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), and battery-electric vehicles (EVs) are all supported, the highest incentives will be provided to those who go fully electric.

Also worth noting here is that those who wish to get rid of their old car and use public transportation instead can receive several thousand dollars worth of incentives as well.

Here’s a brief overview of what’s on offer (via Green Car Congress):

  • Low Income (≤ 225% of the federal poverty level, FPL) — Buyers in this income level who replace a scrapped car with a conventional hybrid car (eg Toyota Prius) that is less than 8 years old that gets 20 mpg or greater, are eligible for $6,500 in incentives. If the replacement car gets 35 mpg or greater (Toyota Prius or Honda Insight), that goes up to $7,000. A plug-in hybrid (eg Chevy Volt), or an electric car (eg Nissan Leaf) receives $9,500. Lower-income consumers who would like to replace their dirty cars with more fuel efficient conventional cars would still qualify to receive up to $4,500.
  • In addition, up to $2,000 for a charging unit at a single residence or multi-unit dwelling is available for the purchase of battery electric cars. In the case of either a brand new plug-in hybrid or electric car, buyers receive an additional $1,500 and $2,500, respectively, from a separate program, known as the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project.
  • Moderate Income (226% – 300% of FPL) — Buyers who replace a scrapped car with a conventional hybrid model that gets 35 mpg or greater receive $5,000, rising to $7,500 for a plug-in hybrid or electric car. (In addition, buyers can receive up to $2,000 for a charging unit for battery electric cars, and if those are brand new cars, an additional $1,500 or $2,500, respectively.)
  • Above Moderate Income (301% – 400% of federal poverty level) — Buyers who replace a scrapped car with a plug-in hybrid or electric car receive $5,500—which includes an additional incentive of up to $2,000 for the charging unit for battery electric cars, and an additional $1,500 or $2,500, respectively, if they are brand new.

Further incentives for the purchase of hybrids, PHEVs, and EVs are also on offer for low-income recipients who live in a “disadvantaged census tract.”

Go To Original Article HERE


June 22, 2015 5:10 pm Leave a Comment


Image from Richard Masoner: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/3270467253/in/photostream/

Americans have been driving less every year since 2007. This shift has been accompanied by regional and local planning efforts that are increasingly focused on giving residents transportation options that go beyond the automobile. There has been lots of positive momentum around transit expansion, planning for complete streets, and adopting initiatives aimed at making streets safer for people who ride bikes and walk. As planners, advocates, and their allies continue to make major multi-modal policy wins, groups are now focusing on the next big challenge. How do we translate successful experiments and policies at the local level to scalable interventions with adequate, sustainable funding? And how do we ensure that these interventions are implemented in a manner that reduces the systemic inequalities that characterize our existing transportation network?

At the local level, we’ve seen a number of plans and initiatives that have pursued multi-modal and active transportation investments. In California alone, local revenues accounted for “nearly half of the $20 billion spent on transportation” during the 2005-06 fiscal year. Following Sweden and New York’s lead, San Francisco was an early adopter of the Vision Zero campaign. The initiative envisions zero fatalities or injuries related to traffic accidents through improved street design, increased education, and enhanced enforcement of safety laws. San Jose recently adopted a similar plan and Los Angeles is considering committing to Vision Zero as part of the city’s multi-modal Mobility Plan 2035. In addition, cities across the state are adopting plans that aim to increase the share of cyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders to achieve greenhouse gas reduction targets. In LA, the city’s Sustainable City Plan aims to have these trips represent 35 percent of all trips by 2025.

So there’s a lot of momentum and planning afoot, with much of the innovation bubbling up from the local level. What seems to be missing from the equation, however, is a consistent pool of adequate funding to implement these multi-modal projects. Although 20 percent of California trips are made on foot or by bicycle, the state’s preeminent source to finance active transportation projects, the aptly named Active Transportation Program, represents just one percent of the Caltrans’ annual budget. The fund provides $300 million biannually, but due to its popularity, more than $800 million worth of projects were left unfunded during the last round. And, although local taxpayers are willing to pitch in to expand transit, the federal investments in transit continues to make up just 20 percent of total spending on surface transportation, even as people are driving less and in spite of steadily increasing transit ridership.

While the prospect of significantly increasing funding at the federal level isbleak, California’s cap-and-trade program represents a sustainable (and growing) revenue source to fund transit operations as well as capital projects. And even though the Active Transportation Program’s funding isn’t being augmented, Caltrans has pledged to adopt “new transportation funding programs to strengthen leadership in multimodal transportation.” (Perhaps the 2014 report that criticized the state agency as “out of step” with best practices has forced the organization to undergo some bureaucratic soul-searching.)

Finally, as we continue to implement projects and enact policies, let’s ensure that multi-modal transportation investments reduce inequities rather than perpetuate them. Policies like Vision Zero rely on enforcement to ensure that all road users are safe. But selective enforcement and efforts to place the onus of safety on the most vulnerable road users only serve to discourage active transportation and foster resentment between law enforcement and the communities they’re supposed to protect. Likewise, we need to critically examine who benefits most from new public transit investments. The sales taxes used to finance these methods tend to affect low-income taxpayers more acutely, but the benefits created by many new transit projects disproportionately accrue to more affluent individuals.

As we move toward a more multi-modal future, it’s encouraging to see that policies and programs are gaining traction. And, at least at the state level, there’s positive momentum to identify and secure sustainable funding sources to advance these types of projects. Let’s be sure that as we implement these projects we add value by ensuring that the benefits of a more robust transportation network accrue to the communities that need it most.

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Cesar Chavez’s Quiet Yet Complicated Approach to Leadership


“Shy,” “self-effacing” and “introspective.” The words LIFE used to describe Cesar Chavez in 1966 may not sound like the qualities befitting one of America’s most effective labor leaders. But Chavez’s power, at least as LIFE observed in that year, was not to be found in displays of volume or might. It was his quiet leadership and deep commitment to nonviolence that empowered thousands of farm workers to transform their working conditions into something more humane.

This legacy has, in recent years, been both recognized and complicated. Last year, President Obama declared Chavez’s birthday, March 31, a national holiday. Also in 2014, author Miriam Pawel published The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, the first comprehensive biography of Chavez, offering a more nuanced view of his leadership. For decades, Chavez had been held up more as hero than human, and Pawel’s thorough excavation of his life injects humanity—blemishes and all—into the narrative.

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from WIRED: MICHAEL HODGES GEAR  |  04.03.15  |  10:00 AM

Aerovelo Engineer Todd Reichert and his team are on a mission to prove that human strength alone can propel helicopters, planes - and maybe their 145 KPH bicycle. Click to Open Overlay Gallery
Aerovelo Engineer Todd Reichert and his team are on a mission to prove that human strength alone can propel helicopters, planes—and maybe their 145 kph (90 mph) bicycle. CHRIS CRISMAN/WIRED UK