Democrats press McCarthy, Jeffries to save key naturalization grant

A group of Democrats is appealing to party leaders in the House to restore funding to a grant program that helps immigrants prepare for naturalization.

In a letter led by Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), 26 members called on Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) to support funding for the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program (CIGP).

The program is a relatively tiny fraction of the Department of Homeland Security budget: It has awarded $132 million in grants since 2009.

But the lawmakers say its effects are substantial.

Through 579 competitive grants over that time, the program “has helped more than 300,000 lawful permanent residents prepare for U.S. citizenship,” they wrote.

Still, they noted, that number represents a fraction of a percent of the estimated 9 million permanent residents eligible to naturalize.

A key target population for grants under the program is immigrants who are poorer and who lack English skills; 32 percent of eligible immigrants targeted by the program have income below 150 percent of the poverty line and about 3 million “speak little to no English.”

“By providing increased assistance through the Grant Program, this eligible population could have greater access to naturalization and English-language classes,” wrote the lawmakers.

Yet all funding for the grant, originally proposed at $10 million for fiscal 2024, was scrapped entirely in the House Appropriations Committee in June.

On the Senate side, the Homeland Security Appropriations bill cleared the committee with $23.5 million for the CIGP.

Gomez, who has pushed to increase funding for the program, last month sent a dear colleague letter to Democrats and Republicans, asking them to join his appeal.

Though only Democrats answered, the co-signers include representatives from nearly every region of the country.

In their letter, the lawmakers made the case that more funding is required to support immigrants who wish to naturalize and who don’t live in cities with high immigrant concentrations.

“… [W]hile [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)] reviewed and supported funding for only 66 organizations nationwide, recipient organizations served both traditional immigrant population centers and emerging immigrant population centers in only 35 states, out of 50 states and several territories,” they wrote.

“Increasing funding for the CIGP will both support immigrant-serving institutions, as well as increase the capacity for additional qualified legal service providers to assist with the naturalization application and process.”

That increased capacity, the lawmakers added, would ease pressure on the overburdened USCIS, “by reducing filing errors, likely contributing to the agency-wide effort towards reducing casework backlogs and improving processing times.”

Tags Hakeem Jeffries Jimmy Gomez Kevin McCarthy