Tyson expands Immigrant Connection Program, helps employees find path to citizenship

Published: Jan. 27, 2022 at 7:48 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 28, 2022 at 3:23 PM CST
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JOSLIN, Ill. (KWQC) - Tyson Foods is expanding its Immigrant Connection Program to all of its plants, helping its employees become U.S. citizens with free legal counsel and no application fees.

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The program launched last year at the Joslin plant, and because of the pandemic had to take a short pause. Now it’s back and able to help hundreds of Tyson employees get the help they need.

The process to become a U.S. citizen can take years, and cost thousands of dollars. Zach Szmara, the National Executive director of Immigrant Connection says this program helps remove the obstacles for working-class residents, allowing them “access to trustworthy, high-quality legal services, [where] your cost is down.” He says it costs $725 to apply for citizenship, on top of the up to $5,000 fees in immigration attorney fees per person. On top of that, it can take about one to two years before the first interview even takes place.

“The beauty of this program is we’re able to bring that [help] directly to the team members and alleviate some of that concern that happens. As well as ‘hey, you don’t have to figure out how to fill out that form. I do it because I’ve done a lot of them.’ So, it’s able to make it a lot easier for them,” says Esperanza Legal Assistance Center’s immigration legal specialist Carolyn O’Connor.

Tyson officials say about 40% of their employees would be eligible to enroll in this program and pursue citizenship. Garrett Dolan works for Tyson Foods’ Corporate Social Responsibility, saying he’s looking forward to helping as many people as they can with the immigrant connection program. “We care about our people. We want our people to have a good quality of life. We want them to have a good stable job, want them to love being at Tyson. And this is just another way that we can serve them,” he says. In addition, it’s competitive differentiation. To his knowledge, they’re the only company who provides on-site legal experts and pays for application fees, “that’s really important to be because nowadays when you know that labor is very difficult to come by. So we need to find ways to connect with our team members in ways that are meaningful for them. And the last is, is you know, as an American citizen. Perhaps as all of us, as American citizens, we’re eligible for over something like 30 federal benefit programs just by being an American citizen. For things ranging from the right to vote to college assistance to Medicare, to you name it- the ability to travel freely because I’m a citizen. If we can help our team members to become citizens, we will enable them to connect more closely with other people in the community and be able to access the benefits that they’re eligible for... rightly eligible for. So, it’s a net quality of life improvement for them.”

Through the help of translators, free legal counsel, and Moline’s Esperanza Legal Assistance Center, the process becomes easier and more accessible, especially to those in rural communities. “One of the things I love to see whenever someone walks out of our office, or even through a Zoom conversation, is they walk away with a smile and ‘honestly, it’s okay, it’s not as horrible as I thought.’ There’s so much misinformation and rumors of how the system works. One of the things that we as DOJ Accredited Representatives and legal specialists can do is clear away some of the rumors clear away some of the confusion and say this is what it is,” says O’Connor.

“The future that you dream is possible! Yes, it may not be simple. But we can journey with you. We can journey along this and answer questions clear way to confusion. And yes, it is possible. So let’s step forward. Let’s step into this. And let’s do this!” she encourages.

Legal counsel will be going to the Columbus Junction plant for the first time on Tuesday. Employees interested can set up their appointments through Tyson’s offices.

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