Obama urges legal permanent residents to become US citizens

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House launched a national, multilingual public awareness campaign Thursday to help almost nine million legal permanent residents overcome barriers to become U.S. citizens.

"If you are eligible, commit to become a citizen today. It is an important step for you, and an important step for our nation," said President Barack Obama in a video that launched the campaign on Citizenship Day, observed every Sept. 17. "Join us. Together we can make America to stand even stronger."

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According to recent estimates, there are approximately 13.3 million legal permanent residents in the United States but only 8.8 million who are eligible to apply for citizenship. Government data show nearly one out of every three eligible individuals obtained their legal status in 1990 or earlier.

The campaign was conceived by a task force created by Obama last November, all part of a package of presidential executive actions on immigration that included expansion of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants young immigrants work permits and reprieve from deportation.

The federal government's action on DACA, as well as a program that would extend deportation protections to certain parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, were put on hold on Feb. 16 by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, Texas.

For the public awareness campaign, the White House said businesses and nonprofit groups plan to host more than 70 citizenship outreach events in the first week, complementing 200 ceremonies in which the federal government will welcome more than 36,000 new citizens across the country.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will begin to allow credit card payments of the $680 naturalization fee and expand its mobile services to rural communities through a new partnership with the Agriculture Department.

Portraits of Obama from throughout his career:

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Obama urges legal permanent residents to become US citizens


In this photo provided by the Obama Transition Office, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama poses for an official portrait on January 13, 2009 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Pete Souza/Obama Transition Office via Getty Images)


US President Barack Obama speaks in the Grand Foyer following a meeting with senior intelligence officials and cabinet members January 5, 2010 at the White House in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)


US President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on November 7, 2011 on tax credits included in the American Jobs Act and new executive actions that will help get veterans back to work.

(Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)


In this handout from the White House, official portrait of U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on December 6, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)


US President Barack Obama announces his nominee for the Federal Housing Finance Authority, North Carolina Democrat Representative Mel Watt, and his nominee for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), venture capitalist Tom Wheeler, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 1, 2013.

(Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)


U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a St. Patrick's Day reception for Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland and his wife Fionnuala O'Kelly in the East Room of the White House March 14, 2014 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)


US President Barack Obama speaks at an event marking the 5th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act in Washington, DC, March 25, 2015.

(Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)


USCIS will also launch an online U.S. civics and history practice test, a mandatory requirement for green-card holders who want to become American citizens.

Naturalized U.S. citizens such as chef and restaurateur José Andrés, actress Diane Guerrero, singer and songwriter Dave Matthews, and former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela will participate in the campaign, called "Stand Stronger," which will also seek to increase awareness of the contributions of new Americans.

The White House said almost 20 cities have joined the initiative, including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, Pittsburgh and Atlanta.

There will be in-language material available in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Tagalog, and the campaign will be promoted by various media companies such as Univision, Entravision, Latina Magazine and People en Español.

A White House official told The Associated Press that the Obama administration is not seeking to naturalize a specific number of legal permanent residents. The official, who requested anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak with media before the official announcement, said the campaign will not represent a significant cost because it will be paid for largely with money already available to federal agencies.

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