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The path to citizenship leads through the community

Crowds of Spanish-speaking parishioners in Los Angeles milled about the historic Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles Catholic Church grounds Jan. 7, browsing through free children’s books—both bilingual and in Spanish—and enjoying colorful slices of Rosca de Reyes—the traditional crown-shaped cake marking the Christian celebration of the three kings visiting infant Jesus. Thanks to partnerships with local legal aid and community organizations, the AFT and its state and local affiliates were in the center of it all, not just handing out books but providing information for immigrant families about how to pursue a much more serious endeavor: U.S. citizenship through the AFT’s groundbreaking Together We Rise Citizenship Program, a labor and community partnership.

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Being a part of the Los Angeles community, especially the school community, means participating in a rich tapestry of events like these and being a part of a community of families who come from all over the world—many of whom are “mixed status,” where some family members may be full citizens and others may not.

“Here in California, we have more than 2 million people who could become U.S. citizens,” says California Federation of Teachers Executive Vice President and AFT Vice President Juan Ramirez, who remembers coming to the United States from Mexico as a teenager. Ramirez, who was handing out cake during the

, understands how the AFT’s presence at events like these can make a difference to people who sometimes feel as if they are on the outside looking in.


Since 2020, the AFT has helped sponsor community fairs and informational sessions about ciudadanía, or citizenship. This past November and December, the AFT sponsored six informational sessions in the Los Angeles area; more are scheduled for January and February, with a citizenship clinic—with free legal counsel, funding to assist with application fees, and a community fair with food, games and giveaways—planned for March. Dozens more have been held in other states including California, Florida, Oregon and Texas, where larger numbers of immigrants live—though there are 9 million “lawful permanent residents” eligible for naturalization across the country.

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