Helping Hopeful Neighbors Achieve Their Citizenship Dream
Houston is an amazing, vibrant and highly diverse place that we call home. Unfortunately, for many Houston-area immigrant neighbors, becoming recognized as citizens is a complicated and expensive legal process.
BakerRipley has spent over a century ensuring Houston remains a place of opportunity for everyone. From a very early stage, we have offered programs and services to help immigrants gain the resources they need to become U.S. citizens.
Today, BakerRipley’s immigration program provides a pathway for our new neighbors to their new home. And we are proud of it. Embedded in our community centers, the program guides newcomers through the citizenship process, secure in the knowledge that they, like you, belong here.
Every year, the Citizenship and Immigration program answers over 9,000 calls to our Immigration Hotline, and provides free legal consultations to an average of over 1,200 families.
With your help, we can be sure anyone that wants to call the United States of America home is able to do so.
This is one reason why we’re so thankful for generous neighbors like you who have chosen to become donors in support of our Immigration and Citizenship programs. Your generosity changes lives and makes dreams come true!
Jill Campbell, BakerRipley’s Director of Community Engagement & Community Development, knows about the ordeals and challenges facing Houston’s immigrants.
Jill is an immigration attorney by profession, and she provides pathways to possibilities every day. “Every person should have a right to due process,” says Jill, “and a right to be able to access benefits and the laws in the United States, regardless of where you came from, how much money you make, and what language you speak.”
For Jill, it’s not a question of politics, but of humanity. “Immigration is particularly important because of what we see on the news. And the situations you see around the world … those individuals are coming to the United States for protection and for safety so that their children can survive. We can protect those who have made it here. And who are asking for safety and shelter in the United States.”
The journey to give people of all backgrounds a place to call home starts when neighbors enroll in our citizenship classes. The classes open doors of opportunities with holistic services including free legal assistance, mental health services and interpreters in over 15 languages.
Since many of our neighbors experience some form of trauma on their journey to becoming a U.S. citizen, BakerRipley employees are also trained to recognize this trauma and offer appropriate counseling. Our immigration programs are housed in multiple communities and exemplify BakerRipley’s diversity. The range of social and ethnic backgrounds BakerRipley serves ensures that equitable legal access and representation is available to all.
The Greater Houston area is well-known for being the most diversified in the country. Unfortunately, our vibrant immigrant population encounters endless obstacles and challenges when trying to fully integrate as citizens.
Houston also boasts one of the longest citizenship processes among major U.S. cities. It generally takes between one and one-and-a-half years to complete the whole process, under good conditions.
For neighbors with disabilities or emotional or mental health issues, the citizenship process is even longer. Often, it feels like an almost impossible mission.
The current citizenship process is complicated and procedural. Any appointment or document can be rejected for the smallest detail, such as a doctor’s handwriting being deemed unreadable or the government interviewer not bringing the legally-required American Sign Language interpreter. Any of these tiny infractions require the applicant to apply for a new appointment, often adding weeks or months to the process.
BakerRipley is one of the few organizations in Houston capable and willing to help people with mental, emotional, or physical disabilities gain U.S. citizenship. And Crystal Gonzalez, BakerRipley’s Manager of Citizenship and immigration advocate, represents dozens of special-needs citizenship cases every year.
Crystal’s passion stems from seeing her own parents travel this difficult journey.
“I always kind of see them from a human perspective.”
— Crystal Gonzalez, BakerRipley Manager of Citizenship
Crystal’s father had a stroke, causing physical disabilities and mental impairments. When she sees clients with similar conditions, she knows exactly how difficult their naturalization journey will be.
This inspires Crystal to work furiously for their rights, and she has an amazing success rate. In 2021, all but one of her clients successfully obtained citizenship.
Without Jill and Crystal — and the BakerRipley staff serving the Citizenship and Immigration programs — these American hopefuls could easily slip through the cracks.
This is why donor support is so crucial and urgent. Every gift matters because every day matters to these men and women. Without BakerRipley’s legal help, they could be stuck in limbo.
The great news is that Houston is full of caring neighbors like Virginia Clark.
Virginia is a committed BakerRipley donor who strongly believes in keeping Houston a place of opportunity for every neighbor.
“Well, I grew up here in Houston, Texas, then I worked 95% of my career at Exxonmobil, with people from all over the world.” It was during this life-long journey, living and growing alongside men and women from all over the world, that Virginia developed a strong sense of connection with her immigrant neighbors.
“I think it’s been the history of the United States. Unless you are a descendant of one of the indigenous tribes, you’re the descendant of an immigrant. That’s how we built this country,”says Virginia.
Despite how complicated this delicate issue can be for many Americans, Virginia has a simple, direct opinion regarding our treatment of those seeking citizenship in our communities. “This is a very difficult issue, I understand that. But we need to have systems that work. I can’t change what happened in the past. All I can do is try to make things better now.”
BakerRipley is proud to help so many of our neighbors become citizens of the country where they work, raise their children and contribute to society. We are proud of Jill, Crystal, Virginia, and everyone who is creating paths to opportunities to entire Houston communities.
As always, we invite you to help fully realize the vision for a stronger Houston where every neighbor can earn, learn, and belong.