A naturalization ceremony is planned for 20 of America’s newest citizens on Thursday, which also happens to be Cesar Chavez Day.
The ceremony at Napa Valley College will be led by John Kramar, the San Francisco director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, and feature Maria Cisneros, principal of Valley Oak High School, as keynote speaker.
In the last two years, 394 Napa County residents have become U.S. citizens through a nonprofit program called the One Napa Valley Initiative, but they have all sworn their Oath of Allegiance to the United States at a considerable distance from home, most often in Oakland or San Francisco.
On Thursday, for the first time in Napa County’s history, representatives from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency of the federal Department of Homeland Security, will conduct a naturalization ceremony in Napa, local sponsors said.
The public is invited to attend the ceremony from 9:45 to 11 a.m. at the Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center at the south Napa campus. A reception will take place afterward in the lobby.
The Napa Valley Community Foundation and more than 125 donors and four nonprofits, including International Institute of the Bay Area, On The Move, Puertas Abiertas, and UpValley Family Centers, launched the One Napa Valley Initiative in July 2013.
“We are very proud of the hard work and determination of Napa County’s newest citizens, and we hope lots of their family members, friends and neighbors will join us on March 31 to applaud their efforts,” Terence Mulligan, foundation president, said in a news release.
About 20 people are expected to take the oath of allegiance on Thursday, he said.
Since the Foundation’s citizenship project began in the summer of 2013, more than 41,500 residents have been reached with information about the benefits and requirements of citizenship; 1,662 clients have received legal consultations, a number that represents more than 15 percent of the county’s population of Legal Permanent Residents; 715 people have submitted citizenship or other applications to the U.S. government; and 394 people have actually taken the oath to become U.S. citizens, Mulligan said.
The One Napa Valley Initiative was started on the heels of a 2012 study on the economic and fiscal impact of immigration in Napa County, which was funded by the community foundation and conducted by a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.
That study, the first of its kind for the region, underscored the substantial economic contributions made by immigrants in Napa Valley, and also pointed to a significant citizenship gap: many immigrants in Napa County are eligible to become citizens, but they haven’t done so nearly as frequently as their peers around the state, Mulligan said.
“Only 30 percent of Napa County’s foreign-born population have become citizens versus 37 percent in California overall,” said Ellen Dumesnil, executive director of the International Institute of the Bay Area.
“There are nearly 9,000 citizenship-eligible legal permanent residents in Napa County, but before this project started, there were only a handful of immigration attorneys in the valley, most far too expensive for lower-income residents,” Dumesnil said.
“Citizenship is correlated with higher family income, higher educational attainment for the children of immigrants that naturalize, higher proficiency in English, and more active engagement in community affairs,” said Jenny Ocon, executive director of UpValley Family Centers.