This past week I had the honor of attending the latest Naturalization Ceremony hosted by the Orange County Clerk’s Office. County Clerk Donna Benson and her team at the Clerk’s Office always do a tremendous job with the Naturalization Ceremonies and it is a pleasure for me to welcome our new citizens. It is always special to see individuals who have worked so hard, some for years, become naturalized U.S. citizens. Traditionally, these ceremonies take place at the Courthouse in Goshen, however, last week’s ceremony was held at the historic Newburgh Armory in the City of Newburgh. Through the efforts of my good friends William Kaplan and Sen. William Larkin, as well as the County Clerk’s Office, 147 individuals were able to take the Oath of Allegiance at this new venue.
In Orange County we take the time to celebrate this accomplishment because for so many taking the Oath of Allegiance is the culmination of years of hard work. The process of becoming a naturalized citizen includes filling out lengthy applications, getting finger printed, taking multiple tests, and having a one-on-one interview at the nearest immigration office. Prospective applicants incur the costs of all of these steps and many times have to travel a distance in order to reach their closest immigration office. For applicants in our region that means traveling to New York City.
Soon, however, traveling to New York City may be a thing of the past. A group of local officials, including County Clerk Benson, have been pushing to have a permanent satellite immigration office opened at the armory in Newburgh. This would allow immigrants to drop off paperwork, take pictures, and complete other steps in the naturalization process without having to bear the costs of traveling to and from New York City.
A Newburgh office could save potential citizens an estimated $1.9 million in unpaid time off from work and the cost of transportation. By having a satellite office in Newburgh, we can expedite the process and continue to welcome newly naturalized citizens to our great country.
Orange County is not alone in trying to ease the transition for immigrants. Governor Cuomo created the New York State Office for New American’s (ONA). ONA consists of a network of 27 neighborhood- based Opportunity Centers throughout New York State.
In Orange County, we have an Opportunity Center at 319 Broadway in Newburgh. These centers help immigrants learn English, prepare for the U.S. citizenship exam, and provide information on starting and growing a business. Anyone looking for information on the Opportunity Center can call the New York State New Americans Hotline at 1-800-566-7636 or visit www.newamericans.ny.gov
As former President Teddy Roosevelt once said, "We should insist that if the immigrant, who comes here, does in good faith, become an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else."
Until next week, I wish you all health and happiness.