Education

Organized Labor Hopes to Grow by Helping Immigrants Gain Citizenship

October 29, 2014
By Marc Bussanich

Jersey City, NJ—The New Jersey chapter of the AFL-CIO, along with New Jersey elected officials, debut the state’s first labor-led immigration support center that will help Hudson County’s 93,000 legal immigrants obtain legal citizenship.

The state’s labor organization is providing financial support because it hopes that, while helping immigrants obtain legal citizenship, they join the labor movement.

In the accompanying video, Tefere A. Gebre, executive vice president of the national American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations in Washington, D.C., said organized labor stands to become stronger with millions of immigrants still waiting to become U.S. citizens.

“The fact is we have 13.5 million immigrants with green cards in this country. Out of them 9 million of them are ready to become citizens tomorrow. And nobody is helping them. I feel like our movement is set up in a way to facilitate this. Can you imagine if we get 9 million immigrants to go through the labor movement to get their citizenship; they would help us build a stronger labor movement as we move forward,” said Gebre.  

The center will be run by the organization We Are One New Jersey, which received a $125,000 grant from the county. The group’s executive director, Edward Correa, told The Jersey Journal on October 15 that the center seeks to educate people in the community on how to become U.S. citizens. He told the paper that 24 percent of those eligible for citizenship choose not to go through the process because the cost of the application is $680. But part of the center’s mission will be to provide free legal counsel throughout the application process and a free 10-week class to prepare applicants for the citizenship exam.

Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey chapter of the AFL-CIO, said in the video interview that helping immigrants gain legal citizenship would help them earn higher wages.

“This is a very, very important issue. Many of the immigrants living here are making low wages. The passage to citizenship will help them earn more money, get a better education and that’ll make our communities better and the state stronger,” said Wowkanech.

U.S. Senator Cory Booker was also on hand for the center’s debut. We asked him why it was important for him to be there.

“It’s about the American Dream. We’ve been a country for generations with streams of immigrants that have made this country better. Here we have an amazing partnership [with] activists that want to support people that want to become legal American citizens so that they have a good job and good benefits,” said Booker. 

@marcbuss marc@laborpress.org

October 29, 2014

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