DENVER — It costs $640 just to apply to become a naturalized citizen of the U.S.
That doesn't include the price of an immigration attorney, which can cost thousands of dollars on its own. Altogether, becoming a U.S. citizen is a stressful and expensive process that can make citizenship inaccessible for many low-income students, workers and families.
That's where ImmigrationHelp.org is stepping in.
"Immigration attorneys can cost up to thousands of dollars to help individuals develop and review these forms and submit them," said Fernando Urbina, the director of outreach at ImmigrationHelp.org. "What we're doing is helping individuals bypass the usual thousands of dollars they would otherwise have to pay an attorney to complete these same processes."
ImmigrationHelp.org was started in 2019 by a group of Harvard undergraduates, law students and attorneys. Today, they help immigrants all over the country prepare immigration forms, renew work visas and DACA permits, and assist those working toward citizenship. It's all free of charge.
"What we're trying to do most is just provide support to as many low-income immigrants as we can, and let them know that we're here for them in any way that we can help," said Urbina, a young Harvard undergrad student who also comes from a family of immigrants.
"When immigrants have to pay very high filing fees and high attorney fees, it can become pretty inaccessible," Urbina said. "We're covering those attorney fees so that all the individual needs to pay is filing fees. That way more people have access to citizenship."
This includes people like Martin Becerra-Miranda in Centennial.
Becerra-Miranda was brought to the U.S. when he was just four years old. For the last seven years he has been a recipient of DACA, or deferred action for childhood arrivals. Becerra-Miranda knows firsthand the struggle that comes with applying and reapplying for his DACA authorization and work permit. He has to do it every two years.
"In 2013, when I had the opportunity to apply for DACA, I went ahead and did that," the 30-year-old said. "It led me to Colorado to attend the Colorado Center for the Blind.
"At that point, I was 23. That was a big step, for sure. After losing my eyesight when I was 16, there was that seven or so year period where I was not really doing anything, not really going anywhere. So to step out of my comfort zone and move to Colorado to attend this program... Colorado gave me my independence back. I wanted to move here. I wanted to live here. That was a huge thing for me."
Today, Becerra-Miranda no longer attends the Colorado Center for the Blind – he works there as the director of youth services.
Still, even though Colorado is home for the father-to-be and his long-time expecting girlfriend, Becerra-Miranda must cross his fingers and apply every two years to hopefully be allowed to stay in the U.S.
"I've been living in the states for 26 years now," he said. "But because of the way that DACA is set up, every two years, I may or may not have the privilege of continuing to be in the States."
Even now, Becerra-Miranda is waiting on approval for his next two-year permit. It's a stressful and agonizing wait that gets more and more worrisome as his son's due date approaches.
"Just having to reapply every two years and not being sure whether I'm going to get approved or not... It's more than a headache," he said. "It's been filled with anxiety."
That's why when Becerra-Miranda found ImmigrationHelp.org – he almost didn't believe the nonprofit was real.
"It was so easy that at first, I wasn't sure that it was legit," he said.
ImmigrationHelp.org said it has ultimately helped 1,000 immigrants in Colorado and across the country.
"I was kind of at a loss as far as what to do and how I was going to get my application filled out and turned in," Becerra-Mirada said. "Just seeing how on top of everything they were. Emailing me, giving me the information I needed, setting up Zoom calls, following up with me. There's no question about it. They made the difference for me and for my family."
The nonprofit organization helps users prepare their immigration forms for free. ImmigrationHelp.org also provides free attorney review of applications for low-income users, victims of abuse, asylum seekers and DACA recipients.
"It costs money for us to provide these services," the organization said. "That money is provided by generous foundations who believe in the American Dream."
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