St. Louis (KMOX) – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” . . . but the poem doesn’t continue, “So I can sue them for everything they’re worth.”

But don’t expect too many class action lawsuits at the Islamic Community Center on Lansdowne Ave. from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow – the lawyers will be there to help.

The Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates (MIRA) will have a workshop to help eligible foreign born Missourians start the naturalization process. Attorneys and law students will offer their time and skills pro bono, helping immigrants fill out citizenship forms that ask how long an applicant has been in the country and if they’ve left it anytime since they first came here.

Vanessa Crawford, executive director of MIRA, says the lawyers work for nothing, even when they could be making a profit.

“Attorneys volunteer their time so that people don’t have to pay another couple hundred dollars for an attorney to help them get their paperwork in order,” she says. Potential U.S. citizens will still have to pay the seven hundred dollar filing fee.

Translators will also be on hand, to help immigrants get through their forms and “make this step {towards citizenship] a little easier.”

“A lot of [the immigrants] speak enough English to get around in life,” Crawford says. “But when you’re filling out important legal paperwork, sometimes, its easier to have somebody there who can interpret for you.”

And who’s eligible? According to Crawford it’s “a person who already has their green card . . . so that’s someone who has lived here for a number of years has met all of the requirements for becoming a citizen.”

Crawford notes most of the people seeking naturalization, or citizenship, are already well established in the community.

“By the time you are applying for citizenship, you’ve got a life and a family and a job and a house and a car and you are here,” she says.

MIRA is a statewide coalition that advocates for almost 213,000 immigrants that reside in Missouri. Recently, they fought in Jefferson City to prevent the passage of legislation that would hurt the growing number of non-citizens residing in the state. Some of the prospective laws they fought against included a bill that would make state driving exams be written exclusively in English and a resolution that would forbid undocumented immigrants from receiving emergency medical treatment.

Crawford believes their success in the capital reflects the state’s desire to accomodate people looking for a home from St. Louis to Kansas City and everywhere in between.

“Missourians are pretty willing to be welcoming to people,” she says.

“I think that people understand that if you’re here trying to make a better life for yourself and your family that that’s what America was built on.”

Copyright KMOX 2011


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