AFSCME Helps Members Navigate Citizenship Process

The start of 2017 has seen a lot of heated discussion over what it means to be an American. Specifically, the rights enjoyed by those who call our country home. People from all over the world call Florida home and there is a long and rich history of immigrants and refugees shaping the state with various customs, languages and ideas on how to achieve the America Dream.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is a confusing, expensive and long process so AFSCME Florida recently joined with the South Florida AFL-CIO to host a citizenship clinic at the Miami Springs CLC. There, dozens of people from across the community, including almost a dozen AFSCME members and their families, were able to get questions answered, access legal help and complete their citizenship applications FOR FREE.

“Several years ago, I went to an immigration attorney and he wanted $6,000 to complete mine and my husband’s application,” said Maria Leyani, an AFSCME Local 1184 member. “I’m a school bus driver. I can’t imagine saving up that much. So when I heard AFSCME was offering this service to members and our families, I seized the opportunity. It means everything to me that our union is fighting for me not just at work today but for my family to succeed for years to come!”

Katja Poole recorded a video explaining why she drove more than two hours just to take part in the clinic after learning about it from an email blast sent by the state council. Poole, a member of AFSCME Local 3879 and employee of the Martin County Sherriff’s Department, explained how she is looking forward to being a dual citizen after navigating the U.S. citizenship process and keeping down costs that had previously served as roadblocks to the dedicated public employee who never quits serving her community.

For Maria Baylon-Guillen, who recently moved to Miami from Colorado, the clinic was an opportunity to give and to receive. Baylon-Guillen is active with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, a cosponsor of the event, and had volunteered at previous clinics. But she had been unable to go through the process herself, until this session. Now, she has joined her mother and older sister in going through the citizenship process, and she volunteered more hours out of her Saturday to help others.

“It is terrifying what our country is going through right now in terms of continuing to be an America that is open and welcome to the positive contributions of the immigrant community,” said Baylon-Guillen. “That is why it is important for me both to go through the process myself and to help others navigate it so that more families can have the peace of mind knowing their future in America is protected.”

The success of the clinic has made it clear to all the organizations involved just how much events like this are needed. That is why another clinic is already planned for March and more are being scheduled into the summer.

Find photos from the event at