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BENNU Legal Services NFP & Consumers Credit Union: Removing Barriers to Citizenship

Lake Bluff, IL (Vocus/PRWEB) February 15, 2011

BENNU Legal Services, an innovative nonprofit Supporting American Dreams throughout Chicagoland, and Consumers Credit Union announce a new collaboration to provide loans to US-citizenship applicants for whom paying the application fees all at once poses a financial burden. BENNU also educates long-time green-card holders about several lesser-known measures available for elderly or disabled individuals who may be intimidated by the English and the US Civics/History exams.

The new Consumers Credit Union-BENNU collaboration aims to alleviate the financial burden that Immigration’s $680.00 application fee can pose to hard-working families and individuals. Prior to applying at Consumers Credit Union, BENNU pre-screens applicants as part of a confidential consultation to determine if they meet the basic legal requirements to apply for citizenship. BENNU then refers interested applicants to Consumers Credit Union for a private meeting with trained bilingual (English-Spanish) individuals. “CCU does not restrict membership based on geography or other criteria. Pre-screened individuals of all ages, ethnicities, and geographic locations are eligible to apply for a citizenship loan, subject to our regular Lending Review Committee guidelines,” says Hal Coxon, who—together with Waukegan branch manager Martha Arias—leads the Latino outreach efforts at Consumers Credit Union.

For only $20, a prospective US citizen becomes a member of Consumers Credit Union, establishes an opening balance in their Savings Account and can apply for a Citizenship Loan. Approved individuals then receive a signature loan—an uncollateralized loan covering the entire $680.00 citizenship filing fee. Repayment terms are approximately $72/month over ten months at 12% APR, a much lower rate than other unsecured loans such as credit cards.

In addition to the new Citizenship Loan collaboration, BENNU highlights other measures that remove barriers to citizenship, especially for the elderly or disabled. Explains Berenice Uribe, a Senior Legal Assistant at BENNU, “Many people fear they cannot pass the citizenship exams because they are elderly, or because a medical condition prevents them from learning or retaining information. For them, we have some good news.”

Helping the elderly is what Andrew Sagartz, BENNU’s Executive Director, calls the Rule of Seventy. Under US immigration law, applicants may take the US Civics/History portion of their exam in their native language if they are at least 55 years with at least 15 years of permanent residency, or if they are at least 50 years old with at least 20 years of permanent residency. A different law aids those with a medical disability—certified by a doctor—that inhibits their ability to learn or retain the information that would be needed to successfully pass the US Civics/History exam. In cases in which Immigration agrees that there is a bona fide disability, that part of the exam is waived completely, and the citizenship interview is conducted in the native language of the applicant.

Removing barriers to US citizenship is important to the integration of law-abiding, long-time legal residents of the United States. Says Sean Rathjen, President and CEO of CCU, “As a nonprofit cooperative, Consumers Credit Union recognizes the barriers many community members face, and we understand that becoming a citizen is often an important step on the path to increased financial security.”

Adds Andrew Sagartz, “We do not want someone who is not qualified to spend time and money applying for citizenship if they do not meet the eligibility requirements, but many who dream of becoming a US citizen often have more options than they realize.” He continues, “With pre-screening by BENNU’s experienced legal staff and through our Citizenship Loan collaboration with Consumers Credit Union, we are removing barriers to achieving the American Dream.”

About BENNU Legal Services

BENNU Legal Services, an innovative nonprofit Supporting American Dreams, provides low-cost legal services and education to help families and individuals new to the United States to legalize and integrate. Through our services, BENNU also supports small business entrepreneurs and helps address important issues such as domestic violence. To meet clients’ needs, we offer services on a sliding-fee-scale, and sometimes pro-bono, basis. Our multicultural staff meets clients at locations convenient to them. BENNU also conducts vocational trainings to increase employability, helping individuals successfully rise to new beginnings like our symbol, the Egyptian phoenix or bennu bird. To learn more, visit http://www.BENNULegal.org.

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Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/Citizenshiploan/Disabilitywaiver/prweb8134293.htm.