Local and federal officials gathered at the Hartford Public Library on Tuesday to celebrate a two-year, $450,000 grant to expand the library’s citizenship and immigration services.
The library currently offers citizenship application services to roughly 200 people a year through a division known as the American Place, or TAP, founded in 2000 to support immigrants in adjusting to their new home and navigating the path to citizenship.
The grant, awarded by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, will enable TAP to welcome an additional 200 students over the grant’s two years.
“This is the only library in the country that got a grant like this — the only library in the country to get a grant to do this work of supporting immigrants, supporting those who want to take that path to citizenship, and we as a community are so proud,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin.
HPL was also the only organization in Connecticut to receive a grant. Other recipients include organizations specifically focused on immigration services, as well as school districts and colleges around the country.
Connecticut ranks among the 10 states with the highest rate of foreign born residents, with roughly 15% of residents born outside the U.S. The Hartford metropolitan area accounts for the highest concentration of foreign-born residents in the state, according to Bridget Quinn, the president and CEO of Hartford Public Library.
“The American Place is at the forefront of welcoming immigrants,” said Quinn, adding that the program has grown “exponentially” over its 23 years. “Hartford Public Library was the first library to do this in the country.”
In addition to citizenship support services, the American Place also provides select legal services, English classes, green card renewal assistance and immigrant youth programs.
“Libraries belong in this space, and we have a critical role to play,” said Jennifer Torres, manager of the American Place. “One of the key barriers stopping many eligible immigrants from applying for citizenship lies in the fact that they lack clear information or have received incorrect or misinformation.”
For example, Torres said, people with low incomes can apply for a partial or full waiver of the federal citizenship application fee. And for those over 50, the requirement to read, write and speak in English may be waived if certain criteria are met.
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, lauded the ingenuity and commitment of the staff at the American Place.
“We’ve got to expand on this,” said Rep. John Larson, CT-01. “Every library in the country should be doing something like this.”