Local groups led by the immigrant organizing nonprofit Somos Un Pueblo Unido are launching a campaign to naturalize some of Santa Fe County's 4,000 lawful permanent residents.

The effort, dubbed Citizenship Now!, is happening in coordination with the city, and includes a public information offensive, community forums, workshops to prepare for citizenship exams and interviews, and other means by which permanent residents can learn how to jumpstart the naturalization process.

The two-year grant will come out to $50,000, divided into two payments of $25,000 each year. But matching donations will push the total to $100,000. Neza Leal-Sánchez, a spokesperson for Somos, says each installment must be matched by local donors before being disbursed. That has already happened for the first $25,000, Leal-Sánchez says.

The grants were awarded to Somos and Mayor Alan Webber's office after the two submitted a joint application for the America is Home award, an initiative of the Cities for Citizenship group chaired by the sitting mayors of New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. Santa Fe was one of 14 award recipients across the country. The city of Albuquerque, which applied with the local organization El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, was also awarded a grant.

Leal-Sánchez says the award comes at a time when legal permanent residents feel vulnerable to the Trump administration's deportation policies.

At the end of 2017, there was a 42 percent increase in foreigners arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and a recent NBC analysis found that federal arrests of undocumented people without criminal records has tripled under Trump.

Lawful permanent residents have permission to live and work in the country, and can usually travel outside the US without problems. However, permanent residency status is not a shield against deportation, particularly if a person is convicted of an aggravated felony or certain drug offenses.

“There’s nothing permanent about being a lawful permanent resident,” Leal-Sánchez tells SFR. “The sense of vulnerability is very similar to that of undocumented immigrants.”

At a Monday morning press conference in front of City Hall, several women who spoke at a podium said they and their families had been lawful permanent residents for years and even decades, but would now apply for citizenship through Citizenship Now!.

Yvonne Miranda, a customer service supervisor at Kohl’s in Santa Fe and a lawful permanent resident, says she’s had trouble finding time between work and family to pursue naturalization, including preparations for a citizenship test. 

"Every day I'm a little too tired to take the classes and to learn the materials; it's going to take some time," Miranda tells SFR. "I'm hoping more people will join [to become citizens]."

Marshaling community resources into a citizenship drive was a "logical next step" for the immigrant community in Santa Fe, said Somos Executive Director Marcela Diaz. Webber characterized the campaign as taking the "offensive" against the federal government's immigration policy.

“We get a chance to do something constructive, where we take legal residents in a position to take the next step in our community and become citizens, full participants in our democracy with voting rights and the opportunity to have their voices heard in all the arenas,” Webber said. 

As part of the project, the city will make certain resources available, such as space at public libraries where people can pick up information about the naturalization process, and will also be at the ready to offer naturalizing citizens information on how to start businesses.

This isn’t the first time Somos has launched a citizenship drive in New Mexico, where some 55,000 lawful permanent residents live. It started a similar effort in the state’s four southeastern-most counties in 2016, resulting in about 200 people “who have already gone through process of citizenship or are in the process of [attaining] citizenship,” according to Somos organizer Marina Piña. 

“They’ve become voters, [they’ve] been able to register family members who are US-born citizens or naturalized citizens to go out and vote,” Piña said. 

Citizenship forums will be held starting in October through early January, in partnership with the Guadalupe Credit Union, the Santa Fe Homebuilders Association, Santa Fe Public Schools and the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center.

Leal-Sánchez says funds from the award will be disbursed to Somos by the end of September. The money will be used in part to pay a full time organizer, Zulema Chavero, who will guide the campaign. 

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated the dollar amounts of the grants. We regret this error.