The Napa Valley Community Foundation on Tuesday announced a $1 million grant to help thousands of legal immigrants in Napa become U.S. citizens.
According to a 2012 study commissioned by the foundation, there were about 9,000 legal permanent residents in Napa County eligible to become citizens.
With comprehensive immigration reform on the horizon, there could be another 10,000 to 15,000 people who now live in the shadows who will have a lawful pathway to citizenship, said Terence Mulligan, the group’s executive director.
The nonprofit’s focus on naturalization — the One Napa Valley Initiative — is an outgrowth of the nonprofit’s release in 2012 of a study on the economic and fiscal impact of immigration in Napa County, Mulligan said.
Citizenship leads to greater engagement in the community and other benefits, including higher family income and higher education and a more engaged community, he said in a news release. “When they naturalize, good things happen for their families and good things happen for the community at large.”
The $1 million grant will be used for outreach, education and application assistance and other legal immigration-related services delivered by community nonprofit organizations with expertise in immigration services and a trusted relationship with the mostly Spanish-speaking immigrant community, he explained. The One Napa Valley Initiative is expected to last three years.
The One Napa Valley group will partner with the International Institute of the Bay Area, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco that focuses on immigration issues. Napa partners include Legal Aid of Napa Valley, On The Move/McPherson Family Resource Center and Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center.
Napa County and its wine industry are heavily dependent on immigrant labor. According to the 2012 report, immigrants make up 33 percent of the local workforce and 73 percent of all agricultural workers in the county.
“This is a big day for our community,” U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said in a written statement. “Immigrants are an important part of Napa Valley’s history, culture and economy. As Congress considers comprehensive immigration reform, it’s important that local groups like Napa Valley Community Foundation make investments in our community that benefit immigrants and non-immigrants alike.”
One barrier to citizenship has been the scarcity of immigration services in Napa County, which has no organization certified by the Board of Immigration Appeals, the division of the U.S.. Department of Justice that interprets immigration laws, according to Mulligan.
Another barrier is the cost. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the filing fee is now a minimum of $595, though military applicants are exempt.
“The naturalization process is very complex, and people going through this process often need assistance,” said Rejane Brito, executive director of Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center. “There is very little low-cost, legally based naturalization infrastructure in Napa County. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services Department strongly recommends that people seeking assistance with naturalization (citizenship application) work with an immigration attorney or a nonprofit which has been recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals.
“Our One Napa Valley collaborative will make (Board of Immigration)-accredited representatives and immigration attorneys available to those seeking assistance to naturalize,” she said in an email.
“We are currently in the planning process for the scope of activities and the allocation of funding has not yet been decided. But the grant will enable the One Napa Valley collaborative to provide legally based naturalization services in Napa County,” Brito said.
Ellen Dumesnil, executive director of International Institute of the Bay Area, estimates the application-to-naturalization process takes a minimum of three months.
Immigrants who become naturalized feel more a part of the community, Dumesnil said. “I think it’s a good thing for the individual and it’s a good thing for the broader community,” she said.
The One Napa Valley Initiative has been funded by contributions from nearly 70 individuals, families, businesses and foundations in Napa County, including The Michael & Isabel Mondavi Family Foundation, John and Barbara Shafer, Bob Torres, Silver Oak Cellars, The Rick Jones Family Fund, and The Clif Bar Family Foundation, the Community Foundation said.
Napa Valley Community Foundation has established a special fund, called the One Napa Valley Initiative Fund, to collect additional donations for the project.
To learn more or make a contribution, visit napavalleycf.org.
The Napa Valley Community Foundation is a nonprofit organization which has distributed more than $30 million in private funding since 1994, according to a news release.
The April 24 print edition of the Napa Valley Register included a version of this story that contained an error. The foundation's initiative seeks to assist thousands of legal immigrants in Napa County become U.S. citizens.