People on horseback riding away down a trail into a forest

Groups call for new citizens to have greater access to federal lands, waters

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Alex Gonzalez

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(Utah News Connection) June is National Immigrant Heritage Month, and advocates in Utah want to see a pathway to U.S. citizenship include easier access to public lands and waters for immigrants who take the Oath of Allegiance each year.

Olivia Juarez, public lands program director for the group GreenLatinos, one of the 68 organizations which sent a letter to federal land management agencies and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, calling for them to provide an America the Beautiful Pass to newly naturalized citizens as a "welcome gift."

PROMO Outdoors - Hiking Mountains Trail Trees Recreation - Pixabay - Teresa Johnson

© Pixabay - Teresa Johnson

Juarez pointed out advocates would also like agencies to consider barriers cashless entry to National Parks can have on unbanked individuals. Juarez contended those who complete the lengthy and at times complex naturalization process should be given an opportunity to connect with the lands they have a right to.

"There is the benefit, of course, like fomenting a population that cares about public lands and wants to make sure that they're healthy and here for future generations," Juarez explained. "But it also provides direct benefits in terms of public health."

Juarez stressed when people have access to clean, pristine natural recreation areas, they also tend to have better physical and mental health. GreenLatinos would also like to see cooperative efforts to host swearing-in ceremonies on public land recreation sites to cultivate deeper, more meaningful connections with the landscape.

Almost 9 percent of Utah's residents are foreign-born, according to the American Immigration Council. Juarez considers Utah to be one of the most welcoming states in the nation for immigrants and also called it home to some of the most famous national parks, like Arches and Canyonlands.

"When people end up in Utah because they're seeking asylum, they don't necessarily come here knowing that we have these amazing five national parks that are world-class and world renowned for their incredible environmental characteristics," Juarez observed.

Juarez added underrepresented communities of color, including immigrant communities and families, face many barriers when trying to access national parks and public lands -- such as distance, cost and lack of familiarity. They said more can and should be done to provide newly naturalized citizens with greater access to the best our country has to offer.