2014 -- The Best Year to Become a U.S. Citizen

2014 -- The Best Year to Become a U.S. Citizen

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Every year, millions of immigrants celebrate the New Year with their own traditions. For our family, it is a ham, kielbasa, horseradish, stuffed cabbage, sauerkraut and pierogis, which are a traditional Polish dishes. And each year, like billions of people around the world, we look forward to the new year with a list of hopes, dreams and resolutions.

If you are a legal permanent resident eligible for American citizenship, there is no better time than 2014 to resolve to become a citizen. As someone who has spent years working with Arab-American immigrants here in Detroit, my own resolution is to help as many of them as possible here in Detroit to take the necessary steps toward citizenship with the New Americans Campaign.

Your community is larger than you might think. Michigan is home to 130,000 lawful permanent residents who could become citizens.

Why follow through on citizenship now? Start with money and power.

First, the money: On the whole, naturalized citizens make more — a new citizen sees an average boost in individual earning of 8 to 11 percent. That makes naturalization a golden opportunity for the entire U.S. economy, which could see growth of $21 billion to $45 billion if all eligible immigrants become citizens.

Second, the power: New citizens can help steer our country, state and cities in the right direction. We are just beginning a critical election year, with a key governor’s race and important congressional elections coming up. Citizenship gives you a voice on big challenges such as health care, the economy, foreign policy and immigration — not to mention numerous local issues that affect us. Citizens have the responsibility and opportunity to elect the right men and women to handle those challenges in the coming years.

Our country’s strength stems from our ability to work together as fellow Americans. And we work more effectively when all of us work side by side as citizens fully engaged in our communities.

On a more practical level, upcoming changes to the citizenship application form offer an incentive to apply for citizenship now. In coming months, the N-400 form is expected to double in length. Although citizenship will remain achievable, applying for it could be more time-consuming. Thankfully, that change is still a few months away.

As immigration reform dominates the headlines nationwide, more of our neighbors are realizing just how important citizenship is to our national fabric. For the first time in 30 years, the country is heavily engaged in a debate on the merits of immigration, including the opportunity to earn citizenship. That opportunity has always been one of our country’s defining values.

And there is no better time to seize it.

Wojciech Zolnowski is the executive director of the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit. For more information with the project or assistance with the naturalization process go to detroitNAC.org.