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Local program helps immigrants become citizens

Saturday - 6/28/2014, 3:23pm  ET

Citizenship forum (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)
On Saturday, organizers held a naturalization workshop at the AFL-CIO headquarters in D.C. It was such a success that the workshop will be replicated in other cities. (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)

WASHINGTON -- A local pilot program that helps immigrants become legal citizens is expected to go national.

On Saturday, organizers held a naturalization workshop at the AFL-CIO headquarters in D.C. It was such a success that the workshop will be replicated in other cities.

Multiple labor and community groups, such as Casa De Maryland, came together for Saturday's workshop. It's been a year since the Senate passed immigration reform, but it went nowhere after dying in the House. Though under President Obama's "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals," certain undocumented youth who came to the States as children will not be deported.

"I think it's great that they can do this for the Hispanic community," says Francisco Mazariegos, a U.S. resident for 25 years. "We all have jobs and we pay taxes. And yet you don't know we're not U.S. citizens. And many times we don't know what are the steps, or many times, we don't qualify for whatever reason.

"I studied here; I went to high school here. I even went to college here," Mazariegos says, adding that he welcomes the help in navigating the system to become a citizen.

Tefere Gebre, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO who organized the workshop, says they're trying to help as many people as possible. Right now, there are 13.5 million permanent legal residents in the country. Of those, 9 million have completed the five-year waiting period and are ready to become citizens.

"Those are people who have permission to live [here]," Gebre says. "We're trying to help as many immigrants as possible. We feel like this is part of the mechanism to get comprehensive immigration reform passed. And we're trying to empower as many immigrants as possible to go to the ballot box."

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