During the first week of August, I attended a press conference at Providence City Hall to witness the announcement of the Immigration Legal Assistance and COVID-19 Recovery Program. In partnership with Dorcas International, the program will provide free legal assistance related to the federal immigration process and help low-income individuals apply for reduced or waived application fees. More than a dozen organizations and community leaders gathered to hear and support this unique program that will benefit many Providence legal permanent residents who may struggle to afford or access the naturalization application process.

As someone who has had the privilege and pleasure of witnessing family members and friends go through the naturalization process, this program filled me with excitement and inspiration. But unfortunately, the costs associated with the naturalization process can be inaccessible for many legal permanent residents. In fact, according to Dorcas International, about 50 percent of Providence legal permanent residents can apply for naturalization and don’t do it either due to high costs, needs around legal help, or language access.

One of the things that called my attention the most during the press conference was something Mayor Elorza said as he explained the need for this program. He talked about the difference in attitudes from politicians and the public toward the immigrant community before and after Donald Trump’s presidency. He said, “even at that time, it wasn’t easy … fashionable or bold even in the Democratic party.” Mayor Elorza added, “but I believe the time has turned the tide in America’s sensibilities towards the immigrant community … to one where we think about them, even more, a part of the fabric of our community and understand that if they’re not well off, none of us are.”

That last phrase made me pause for a minute.

Did we really care more about our immigrant communities now? Did we really think about them more as part of our community and society? Do we really value them?

As I contemplated these questions for the last few days, the answers seem to vary depending on “who” it is that we’re categorizing as “immigrants.”


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