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Municipal Employees Legal Services

Worried members turn to DC 37 for help

MELS attorney Joan Foy helps members like Ferdous Ahmed on their path to citizenship.

To become a U.S. citizen, you must

  • Be a legal permanent resident for five years, or have three years residency if married to a U.S. citizen.
  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Able to read, write and understand basic English.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of basic U.S. history and government.
  • Be willing to take an oath of allegiance of the United States.
  • Be of good moral character.


President Donald J. Trump’s executive order issued on Jan. 27 sought to ban people from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the United States. The order was swiftly struck down by the federal court with orders not to deport or detain travelers.

Chaos prevailed at airports around the country on the weekend the day after Trump issued the ban. At Kennedy Airport in New York City, hundreds of demonstrators joined cab drivers and protested against the ban.

Panic also spread among the thousands of immigrant New Yorkers. Fear spread to immigrants not covered by the ban and even immigrants who have green cards and visas.

Ferdous Ahmed, a member of Electronic Data Processing Personnel Local 2627, was one of those New Yorkers. Shocked by what he was seeing on the evening news that weekend, Ahmed called the union’s Municipal Employees Legal Services (MELS) the first thing on Monday morning. Ahmed, who is a native of Bangladesh and lives in Brooklyn, wanted to file his citizenship application immediately.

“It was alarming,” says Ahmed of the ban. “And I’m very worried, like a lot of people.”

Ahmed is getting assistance from MELS attorney Joan Foy, who handles the citizenship applications.

Ahmed’s application should go smoothly and he shouldn’t be worried, Foy said. But since the ban was announced, MELS has been getting a lot more calls by concerned members like Ahmed.

“They have their certificate of naturalization and their U.S. passports, but they’re still worried,” said Foy, who tries to assure them they’re safe.

Citizenship Committee helps too

For Cuthbert Dickenson, chair of the DC 37 Citizenship Committee and president of Local 374, Trump’s proposed ban should motivate members to follow Ahmed’s example and not put off filing their application any longer.

“I’m hoping to see more members take that next step,” he said.

The Citizenship Committee has been organizing forums to help members apply for citizenship since its inception in 1996. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there, so our forums clear all that up and get members started with the application process,” said Dickenson.

The committee has invited staff from MELS, representatives from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the New York Civic Participation Project to its forums. The Citizenship Committee partnered with CUNY Citizenship Now and the City Council on Nov.19 at union headquarters to help members navigate the citizenship process.

For years, Dickenson has encouraged immigrant members, like Dietary Aide Carlton Cowie, to contact MELS and start the application process. Cowie, a member of Local 420, took his advice and in 2011 became a citizen.

“I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” said Cowie. He registered to vote on the same day he became a citizen.

Members interested in becoming a U.S. citizen should contact MELS and schedule an appointment for an interview. Interviews take place on Mondays and Wednesdays during regular business hours.

“The most important thing during the interview is to be honest,” explained Foy. “We need to know how and when members got their green card.”

After the interview, Foy will determine if everything is in order and ready to go forward with the citizenship application.

She also recommends scheduling an interview as soon as possible and starting the application process before there is another fee increase. The fee is now $725, with $80 going to the fingerprinting fee.

With the help of MELS, Maf Misbah Uddin, DC 37 treasurer and president of Accountants, Statisticians and Actuaries Local 1407, became a U.S. citizen.

“The process is much faster and cheaper if you get help from MELS,” he advised.

To schedule an appointment call 212-815-1111. The Citizenship Committee will hold a forum to help members on March 22, from 6 to 8 p.m., at union headquarters.