Group helps immigrants become citizens


There are hundreds of immigrants living in the South Bay legally who cannot afford the citizenship application fee -- a fee that's jumped 80 percent in the last year.

Now the Knight Foundation is offering to help cover the costs. But there is a catch.

"We have no choice we got to pay what we got to pay," said Rolando Rivera.

Rivera is in the process of applying for citizenship in San Jose. Many legal residents have been faced with citizen application fees that have almost doubled since last year.

Teresa Castellanos is with Santa Clara County Immigrant Relations.

"When it went from $400 to $675, it became unattainable for many," said Castellanos.

"Most of the folks here that want to pursue citizenship are the kind of folks, that we should be enabling," said Dave Mills from the Knight Foundation.

The knight foundation was established by the brothers who founded the Knight newspaper empire. The foundation is putting up an $1.8 million grant to help pay half of the citizen application fee for qualifying Santa Clara county legal residents.

"We have one of the biggest concentrations in the United States, and it's very important that these people have a chance to build economic assets and get a piece of the American dream," said Mills.

This grant is expected to help about 1,000 legal residents finally become citizens.

But there is a string attached to this windfall. Legal residents like Maribel Ruiz will have to come up with her half.

She'll have to go through six weeks of financial training at the Opportunity Fund of San Jose and then set up a savings plan which will go towards the fee.

"Be saving month by month little by little," said Ruiz.

Eric Weaver says the Opportunity Fund will train people like Maribel to become financially savvy and fiscally responsible. Only then will applicants get the matching funds.

"The will is there the energy is there at times it's just a little information and a helping hand," said Weaver.

The selection process for entry into the program will begin in September.

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