The New Jersey State AFL-CIO Community Services Inc., a nonprofit agency of the state federation, has partnered with Hudson County to create the state’s first labor-led immigrant advocacy center, which will help thousands of legal immigrants achieve their American Dream of full citizenship and the right to vote.
The We Are One New Jersey Hudson County Center officially opened on Tuesday, October 28, 2014, with a kickoff ceremony attended by dozens of labor, political, civic and community leaders. Specifically, the center provides U.S. citizenship application assistance, including preparatory classes for the citizenship test, voter registration and education on workplace rights to residents of Hudson County at low- or no-cost.
“We are proud to be part of this groundbreaking community-building initiative taking place in New Jersey, and we applaud the efforts of the state federation for taking a leadership role in making it happen,” said Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President of the national AFL-CIO, who attended the opening. “This center is an important step forward in our national AFL-CIO campaign to assist and engage New Americans in their communities.”
Nearly 400,000 Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) living in New Jersey are eligible to become citizens, but may lack the finances, English-language skills or the time to become naturalized.
“This particular project is near and dear to our hearts,” said New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech, whose federation represents one million members across the state. “The center was created to build stronger communities and empower workers through naturalization. We have many family members and union members who are legal immigrants, and can’t take advantage of all aspects of living in the United States.”
The center is located in Hudson County, home to 653,000 residents, including a diverse and vibrant population of Latinos, Filipinos, Egyptians, Haitians, South Asians, Portuguese and more. The county is also home to 93,000 LPRs who are eligible to begin the naturalization process.
“Hudson County has long been proud of its historic role as America’s gateway for new immigrants seeking to make a better life for themselves and their families,” said Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise. “Today Hudson County continues to embrace its identity as ‘America’s Golden Door.’ That is why our administration so strongly supports the work of We Are One New Jersey here in Hudson and why we are so pleased that the first We Are One New Jersey Center in the state is opening in a county government building today."
New Jersey State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Laurel Brennan added: “By helping residents to become U.S. citizens this center is helping local families to gain power, gain visibility, and become engaged in the state and local civic process. There are long-time members of our communities that are invisible because they lack the resources or support needed to become citizens. This center will ensure that their voices and dreams matter too.”
The center’s executive director, Eduardo Meza, says he looks forward to providing services for underserved residents of Hudson County. “By utilizing our services, residents will gain the skills they need to complete the naturalization process and become fully engaged in the communities we call home.”
Also joining us for the grand opening were U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, U.S. Representatives Albio Sires and Donald Payne Jr., state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Sister Roseann Mazzeo of Women Rising Inc., and many others, including members of the New Jersey Legislature and Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders, other distinguished officeholders and members of the community.
Statements of Support for the We Are One New Jersey Hudson County Center:
“The We Are One Center New Jersey Hudson County Center is open for business, ready to empower every legal immigrant to complete the process, become a citizen, increase their chance at a better education, a better job, greater economic opportunities, help them find the services they need, and help make them part of the American community — with a new passport and a country they can officially call home.”
– U.S. Senator Robert Menendez
“The social, economic and cultural contributions of immigrants have made New Jersey and our country what it is today. The We Are One New Jersey center will provide much-needed guidance and assistance to immigrants who are navigating what can be a complicated process to achieving citizenship. Naturalized citizens are able to engage fully in government, allowing them to build stronger communities where there voice can be officially heard.”
– U.S. Senator Cory Booker
“This center is at the forefront of empowering local families and forging new bonds between our many diverse communities,” “The opportunity to help our friends and neighbors on the path to citizenship, not only helps families to build brighter futures, but also brings out the best in our society as has been the case for generations.”
– U.S. Representative Albio Sires (D-8)
“The resources offered by this center will allow us to better cultivate and harness the full diversity of our state. By assisting local immigrant families to attain their dreams of U.S. citizenship, our communities grow stronger and our democracy that much more robust.”
– State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32)
“We know when we can help to empower individuals, their families are also empowered. In this case, when an immigrant succeeds, their family also succeeds and the community is better. There is a lot of diversity here, and strength in that diversity. It is extremely important to assist people to get more integrated into the community, so they can share their individual gifts and assets with all."
– Sister Roseann Mazzeo, Executive Director, Women Rising
“A center like this treats clients with respect and listens to them, communicates with them, tries to understand their needs and help them. That’s absolutely critical because these are unheard joyful and contribute to the community.”
– Catherine Tansey, Starting Points Inc., International Institute for Community Building