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In our opinion: Salt Lake County gives a clearer path to citizenship

U.S. flags are waved during a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony in the Capitol rotunda in Salt Lake City on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
U.S. flags are waved during a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony in the Capitol rotunda in Salt Lake City on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

A new Salt Lake County citizenship initiative paints a picture that stands in stark contrast to the nation’s immigration rhetoric at present. While Congress has yet to lead in finding solutions for more compassionate and prudent legal immigration policies, communities are taking practical steps to helping prospective Americans realize their dreams.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams announced last week the launch of the United for Citizenship initiative, a community-driven action aimed at assisting immigrants in Utah who want to pursue full-fledged citizenship. It’s a smart plan that deserves recognition.

Tens of thousands of immigrants across the state have reached the status of legal resident without completing the process of becoming U.S. citizens. Explanations for this are scant, but one reason undoubtably sticks out — it’s hard.

The process differs among people and circumstances, but the general path to citizenship requires decent English skills, time requirements, personal interviews, a chunk of money and an arduous test that most U.S.-born citizens would have a tough time acing. Add in transportation difficulties, demanding work hours or cultural differences, and the goal easily fades to a distant dream.

With citizenship, however, comes the privilege of voting, access to federal aid and government jobs, a higher earning potential and greater freedom to travel. Through concerted effort, immigrants who achieve citizenship receive a host of benefits to enrich their lives and communities.

The economic dividends of aiding immigration and citizenship ought to be enough to encourage communities to make the process easier. Immigrants, for instance, are twice as likely to start businesses than native-born citizens, according to research conducted by the Kauffman Foundation. That’s good for both individuals and markets. But any economic incentive pales in comparison to the social and moral obligations states have to care for their residents.

This initiative is another step toward fulfilling those responsibilities. County leaders are partnering with local businesses, schools, nonprofits and faith-based organizations, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this paper, to expand opportunities for willing participants to acquire the skills necessary for the naturalization process. Those range from offering English classes and flash cards to workforce training and issuing waivers to ease the burden of the $790 application fee.

A better definition of a community-driven solution would be hard to find. By joining forces around shared principles — inclusion, charity and respect — leaders are building a coalition that will shape lives and tee up a generation set to benefit from Utah’s social mobility and economic advantages.

As nearly half of Utah’s immigrants with legal residency are concentrated in Salt Lake County, it’s wise to divert efforts to this region. And if the measure proves successful over the next few years, we hope to see similar initiatives employed around the state with more groups joining to offer their resources.

Despite gridlock, tweets and mountains of commentary on the present state of immigration in the country, it’s a relief to see Americans have not abandoned their desire to make this a land of opportunity for all who are seeking a better life.