LONG ISLAND CITY — A new immigration facility opened in Queens Friday amid vows of improved efficiency during the naturalization process for the nation's most diverse county.
The $3.4 million facility on Jackson Avenue will provide customer service information and handle fingerprinting, interviews, green cards and naturalization oath ceremonies for a federal agency, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, that oversees lawful immigration to the United States.
About 100 employees from another immigration office in Garden City, Long Island, were relocated to the new office, which occupies more than 48,000 square feet on two floors of the building.
"We want the community to be inspired by the opening of this office," said Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency within the federal Department of Homeland Security.
Mayorkas said the new facility's opening is "emblematic of the very important statement that we are here for you."
Immigrants who want to speak to an immigration services officer at the new facility can make an appointment through an online system called Infopass.
Asked why the agency did not open the office in a more ethnically diverse Queens neighborhood such as Jackson Heights, Mayorkas said the decision came down to local demographics and the availability of leasable space.
"We wish we could be everywhere," he said.
Earlier, Rep. Carolyn Maloney had praised the selection of Long Island City, which sits in her district.
"You could not have selected a better area," Maloney said, adding that a nearby Queens Plaza park with bike lanes and green space makes "a beautiful area to rest after you go through the immigration process."
Officials also noted the facility's proximity to local subway stations at Queens Plaza and Court Square. They admitted that street parking is sparse, but added that many garages operate nearby.
"We are catching up to 21st-century demographics by moving our office where our customers are," said Andrea Quarantillo, the agency's New York district director.
"The opening of this office is our continuation of our efforts to provide these services to people in convenient places. And, of course, Queens is an absolutely natural choice."
About 200 people watched the grand opening ceremony in a packed room that will host future naturalization oath ceremonies. The 10 a.m. event drew Borough President Helen Marshall, Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Assemblyman David Weprin.
The Queens immigration office is open 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and closed on federal holidays.
Maloney also cited a quote from founding father and President James Madison: "America is indebted to immigration for her settlement and prosperity."
She added, "New York City and Queens is certainly a strong, powerful testament to his truth and his words."