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Silicon Valley firms join in immigrant citizenship effort

San Francisco Chronicle


March 17 2014

By Joe Garofoli

With immigration reform languishing in Washington, a handful of Silicon Valley companies took action Monday to help their green-card-holding workers become citizens.

Nokia, DTZ, Technology Credit Union and ABM joined the Bethlehem Project - a year-old pilot program that funds services targeted toward immigrants at the workplace. The initiative connects companies with local providers of legal assistance and citizenship test preparation, among other services.

“It’s expensive and takes time to get a lawyer, and to find out about citizenship classes,” said Mario Moreno, a spokesman for National Immigration Forum, which is coordinating the effort.

The program is running in five cities - San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami and Washington, D.C. - where the Bethlehem Project has partnered with 50 businesses to help about 1,500 people get their citizenship.

Organizers expect a dozen more companies to sign up soon in Silicon Valley, where the National Immigration Forum estimates that there are 385,000 green-card holders eligible for naturalization.

Part of the reason only four companies were part of the Silicon Valley launch is that some larger local employers aren’t accustomed to working with nonprofits, said the National Immigration Forum’s Jennie Murray.

“They may be used to nonprofits coming to them and asking for something,” said Murray, the National Immigration Forum’s director of integration programs in Washington, D.C. She points out the program provides its services free of charge to green-card holders and has no cost to the companies.

Politically, valley leaders have been aggressive in pushing for immigration reform in Washington. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represents 375 member companies in the valley, has led several delegations of tech CEOs to lobby Congress for reform.

Since August, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been at the forefront of the political effort on immigration through his new issue advocacy group Fwd.us.

But while the Republican-controlled House has jammed efforts to pass immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented U.S. residents, the Bethlehem Project hopes to provide some help for green-card holders stuck in immigration limbo.

The project offers lawful permanent residents employed by participating businesses entry to a citizenship information session, free one-on-one legal assistance, test preparation help and assistance submitting citizenship applications.

In San Jose, the program will be funded by the New Americans Campaign, the Grove Foundation, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation.

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