While Congress debates legislation that would deny legal immigrants federal assistance until they become citizens, communities in East Los Angeles are mobilizing to help 8,000 people speed through the naturalization process before the November, 1996, elections.
By the end of August, the United Neighborhoods Organization plans to have organized meetings at its 10 Eastside member churches with residents who are interested in becoming citizens.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service has agreed to schedule tests and interviews in those churches as soon as possible.
With a tremendous backlog of applicants for citizenship, the naturalization process now takes about a year. By bringing the INS to local churches, the neighborhood group aims to cut the waiting time to nine months.
UNO senior leader Lou Negrete said the group does not endorse candidates, but encourages citizens to become involved in the democratic system.
"It's to unite people so they can participate in civic affairs with a powerful voice," Negrete said.
With legislation similar to Proposition 187 being discussed nationally, Negrete said the rush to citizenship among members of the 90% Latino group has grown fierce.
"The immigrant community is frightened," he said.