Billionaire starts fund for emigres

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NEW YORK — Jewish federations across the country will soon receive funding to help immigrants become U.S. citizens.

The Open Society's Emma Lazarus Fund recently awarded $1.3 million to the Council of Jewish Federations to fund naturalization programs.

The CJF will disburse funds to qualified federations that can use the money to provide English and civics classes for immigrants preparing for the naturalization exam.

CJF's "objective is to get as many people naturalized as possible," said Diana Aviv, director of CJF's Washington Action Office. The goal is to help naturalize 4,000 to 6,000 people, she said.

To receive funding, federations must demonstrate a prior record of providing assistance to naturalizing immigrants. Grants will be used to improve existing programs.

The Emma Lazarus Fund was initiated by Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros to help legal immigrants in the United States. Soros, an immigrant himself, started the $50 million fund after the passage of last year's welfare reform bill, which eliminated some benefits to immigrants.

The law spurred a rush among immigrants to gain citizenship, but many, especially from the former Soviet Union, have been unable to complete the naturalization process because they are elderly and do not know English, Aviv said.

The CJF expects to award grants to approximately 18 communities.