Nearly $1 Million Awarded to Pennsylvania Groups Helping Immigrants Become Citizens



  • Antoine Orozco

Immigrants from more than a dozen countries take the Pledge of Allegiance administered by Deputy Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Jennifer Higgins during a naturalization ceremony in Philadelphia on Wednesday, 29 June 2022.

Matt Rourke/AP Photo

Immigrants from more than a dozen countries take the Pledge of Allegiance administered by Deputy Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Jennifer Higgins during a naturalization ceremony in Philadelphia on Wednesday, 29 June 2022.

Ryan Breisch says he came to learn what becoming an American means to some people.

“Being an American citizen is the dream of many people around the world,” Breisch said. “You know, this is the pinnacle of people’s lives for many people.”

Now his organization and others are empowered to bring this step to many others in the Commonwealth.

“We are happy to be able to help at least 200 people over the next two years to realize this dream,” said Breisch.

Breish is the executive director of the Literacy Council of Reading-Berks, which recently received the largest grant in its nearly six decades of existence – a quarter of a million dollars.

The money is part of $20 million in grants from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services specifically for citizenship education, community integration of refugees and building community networks for groups focused on naturalization.

The $250,000 for the Literacy Council will go towards Literacy Council civics classes. Classes are four hours per week for 12 weeks. Aspiring immigrants learn about American history, geography, vacations, and the structure of American government in the United States.

All of these subjects are woven around the English skills needed to pass the verbal and written citizenship test.

The grant will also fund a new program in which Reading-based immigration lawyers from ALDEA – the People’s Justice Center will help students navigate the citizenship process.

“It’s a big deal for the literacy council because we’ve been doing citizenship training since the 1980s, however, we haven’t been able to get the legal side of the services,” said Breisch. “And that’s what makes this program wonderful and different from what we’ve done in the past.”

Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 and Jewish Family and Community Services of Pittsburgh also each receive grants of $300,000 for education and citizenship application services, according to USCIS.

Jamie Englert is the Director of Immigration Services for Jewish Family & Community Services of Pittsburgh. She said the journey to becoming a citizen is neither easy nor fast for lawful permanent residents.

Besides civic tests, applications cost upwards of $700, processing time can take well into the year, and any errors in applications can result in serious setbacks for applicants, she said.

“JFCF’s mission is to help people through change and challenge,” Englert said. “So we’re excited to help immigrants in western Pennsylvania achieve the American dream and become citizens.”

There are approximately 74,285 foreign-born residents in Allegheny County; 28,000 in Lancaster County; 32,000 in Berks County; and 5,700 in Lebanon County, according to data from the 2021 American Community Survey.

USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou said the investment of millions of dollars across the country is helping to empower budding citizens.

“We are committed to educating remote, underserved and vulnerable populations about the benefits of citizenship and the naturalization process,” Jaddou said in a written statement. “Through the USCIS grant program, we are ensuring that community organizations can equip immigrants with the tools they need to succeed on their journey to becoming new American citizens and beyond.”

Breisch noted that often as elections approach, politicians will focus on immigration. But Breisch says this investment in new Americans is something that exemplifies national pride.

“What better way to celebrate America than to welcome to this country people who wish to become American citizens?” said Breisch. “I don’t think there is anything more patriotic or American than helping individuals who want to become citizens of our great country.”

Anthony Orozco is part of the “Report for America” ​​program – a national service effort that places reporters in newsrooms across the country to report on under-reported topics and communities.


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