EAST LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A unique loan program is helping legal residents afford the process of becoming naturalized citizens.
An estimated two million immigrants in California are permanent legal residents but not naturalized citizens.
Josue Garcia is among the applicants for a citizenship micro-loan from Pan American Bank in East L.A.
"I feel more American than anything, but my status is still just a resident," said Garcia.
Born in El Salvador, Garcia's parents immigrated to the United States when he was two-years-old. Though he has been a permanent resident for 10 years he has yet to call himself a U.S. citizen.
"You need to send a full payment in advance and that's something that some of us don't have available," said Garcia.
The micro-loan program was created one year ago. Pan American Bank is the only bank in the state to offer a citizenship loan.
"Being in East L.A. and having a community that is 97.1 percent Latino we thought that this was a product that was perfectly suited for the Los Angeles County area," said Jesse Torres, President and CEO of Pan American Bank.
The program provides a $1,000 loan. The bank sends $680 directly to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the remaining $320 is sent to the borrower to cover additional costs.
The loan has a fixed 12 percent interest rate with the option of 12, 18 or 24 month repayment options.
Torres said helping citizens become naturalized contributes to the economic growth of their communities and empowers more people to vote.
"They can assist in selecting their elected officials, they can have a say in presidential elections, they can have a say with what's going on today with this whole government shutdown," said Torres.
Once the application is completed, it can take as little as two days to receive a loan.
In the future, Pan American Bank hopes to team up with non-profits and take the program nationwide.
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