Knight Foundation 'New Americans' Initiative Promotes Naturalization and Civic Participation

$3 Million in New Grants Awarded to La Raza, YMCA, National League of Cities

MIAMI – The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced it will invest more than $3 million in programs to help eligible immigrants become citizens and participate more fully in the civic life of their communities.

The foundation’s New Americans initiative addresses opportunities in Knight communities to provide education and family services to growing numbers of immigrants, particularly those who have green cards and want to become naturalized citizens.

This latest investment adds to prior funding of more than $10 million backing the foundation’s commitment to assisting immigrant groups in Knight communities and to supporting agencies working nationally and at the grassroots level.

Expanding this commitment, Knight’s board of trustees recently approved three-year grants to three national groups working to support community efforts smoothing the transition of newcomers into American society. Funding was awarded to the National Council of La Raza, the National League of Cities and the National Council of the YMCAs of the USA, among others.

“National immigration policy continues to be the subject of hot debate,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation. “Meanwhile, local communities need help now to deal with the challenges and opportunities of their increased immigrant populations.

“We want to turn down the volume and provide practical solutions. That’s why we are focusing on encouraging civic participation and naturalization of eligible immigrants in Knight communities. When they become citizens and vote, immigrants gain a greater voice in the political decisions that affect their lives,” he said.

La Raza, based in Washington, D.C., is using a $1.2 million Knight grant over the next three years to build local support and services in nine Knight communities, thus helping smooth the processing of naturalization applications by green card holders.

The nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, La Raza is helping lead a nationwide civic participation campaign, “Ya es hora” (“Now is the time”), which aims to naturalize one million eligible legal permanent residents during the next two years. Ibargüen announced Knight support of the campaign at a “Ya es hora” benefit concert Tuesday [March 11] at Miami’s Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

The Washington-based National League of Cities is receiving a grant of $880,000 for technical assistance, training and other resources that will enable municipal leaders to support immigrants in their communities.

Knight also awarded $750,000 to the National Council of YMCAs of the USA, based in Chicago, for development of local programs for immigrant youth and families in Knight communities. The Y’s programs will focus on naturalization, education, financial literacy and other citizenship skills.

In addition, $150,000 was granted to the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, of Washington, D.C., supporting efforts to bring together state governors to discuss immigration policy.

“Knight Foundation has worked for years in partnership with national and grassroots groups to promote civic engagement and provide services to immigrants,” said Damian Thorman, Knight national program director.

“Immigrant families now settle not only in the historic gateways, such as California and Florida, but also in new nontraditional gateways including such Knight communities as Fort Wayne, St. Paul, Charlotte, Wichita, Detroit and Lexington. It makes sense to help eligible immigrants become citizens and take greater leadership responsibility in their communities,” he said.

“Leaders of Knight communities are working hard to find ways to help eligible immigrants become citizens and become more active participants in civic life. We’ll continue to be a partner in this important effort,” Thorman said.

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