Florida Justice for Our Neighbors joins the Suncoast Citizenship Project
In 2011, Pam Qualls was the executive director for Learning Empowered, a United Methodist-affiliated nonprofit dedicated to providing educational opportunities for low-income immigrants of the Tampa Bay region of Florida. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services awarded her organization a two-year renewable grant to help eligible immigrants wishing to become naturalized U.S. citizens.
Two years later, they added legal services to the “Suncoast Citizenship Project.” But they had trouble finding the right legal services provider…until they approached Florida JFON in 2019.
“After having attempted this program with two other legal services providers,” says Pam, “I’m very grateful for Florida JFON. They have the same orientation to service, the same desire to provide respect and dignity, and to go that extra mile for those who are resource-constricted.”
Pam feels so strongly about Florida JFON’s commitment to service that she became their board chair this past January. Although she retired from her position at Learning Empowered, she still gets to be involved in the project she helped create—the one that is so close to her heart.
“Learning Empowered handles all the education parts—ESL and citizenship classes,” says Pam. “Florida JFON provides the initial legal screening for eligibility and works with the client to submit their naturalization form and a fee waiver, if applicable.”
The current fee for becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen is $725. Although an attorney is not an absolute necessity, the application process can be very daunting. A private immigration attorney will charge between $1,500 – $3,500 for services provided to a naturalization client.
In a typical year, Suncoast Citizenship Project will have about 100 applicants successfully go through the program and become naturalized U.S. citizens. But this is definitely not a typical year.
Classes are now online, and conversations with clients are via Zoom.
Like the rest of the JFON network, Florida JFON has learned to adapt…and continues to serve.
As we all continue to hope for better days ahead.