When you look up the word “citizenship” online, you are met with a definition and several pages full of lists, requirements, and applications in order to become a U.S. citizen. The way it’s set up, it seems easy to say, “I fit the requirements! I can apply!” Little do most people understand that this application process is not only extremely time consuming and difficult, but also very expensive. I should know-- I went through it myself.
I was a child when I became a citizen, and I don’t remember much about it. So when I set out to write this article, I decided to ask my mother about the entire process one must go through in order to become a citizen of The United States of America.
via: Washington Post
The entire process basically began with my father. My grandmother (my father’s mother) was actually a U.S. citizen due to her being born in Texas, so she began by filling out paperwork akin to a petition requesting to have her son become a resident--which is what comes before the actual citizenship process and paperwork. With his paperwork, my father included his own additional request to include his wife (my mother) in order for her residency process to begin at the same time as his. The papers were then signed by my grandmother and turned in. These papers requesting U.S. residency cost my parents about $1,500--in 1986.
Every year my parents made sure to check in on any news surrounding their paperwork, and although they had to remain in Mexico during this time, they did everything they could to save up money for the big move in the future. Throughout those years, they went from being a newlywed couple to being the parents of three daughters. Each time a daughter was born, they made sure to incorporate her into their initial request.
Cue nine years after the paperwork was first sent in, when my father was finally called and given an appointment to have his fingerprints and background check done. This process could only be done in a city within Chihuahua, Mexico, which is approximately nine hours away from where we were currently living. My father then paid the bus fares for both himself and his mother (who had to be present for the process), and since they would have to be away from home for 3-4 days, he also booked them a hotel.
My father had to repeat this trip one last time on the day he was summoned to receive his residency paperwork. This time, he rode the bus there alone. Once his paperwork was in his hands, he had to go on yet another long bus ride that would take him to Texas, where he would board another bus that would take him to Los Angeles, where he would be staying with one of his cousins until he had saved enough money for an apartment. Little did he know he would be without his family for almost seven months.
About three months after my father had left for California, my mother and I had to also take the trip for my mother’s background check. (Did I mention I was only a few months old at the time?) It then took another three months after that trip when she finally received a summons for her and her three daughters to receive their residency paperwork. Although my father was working two jobs at the time, he had to take time off in order to meet up with all of us and finish the process. We were there for approximately five days because the government wanted proof that as soon as my mother entered the country, she would have a job. As soon as that was settled, our entire family made the bus trip from Mexico to Texas to Los Angeles, California--a city we still call home to this day.
After residency is accomplished, you then have about five years before you can become a citizen. At the time, the paperwork was about $150/person; according to an article published in 2016 by the American Immigration Center, fees today are about $725 per person. You also must pay the photo fees, and if your birth certificate is in another language then you must pay to have it translated into English. Adults will receive a study guide of about 100 questions, of which they will only be asked about 8-10; they must pass this test to obtain citizenship. Once an adult passes their test, any children under the age of eighteen will also obtain citizenship status along with their parent. The adult must then attend a seminar of sorts (almost like a graduation) called an Oath Ceremony in which you sing the national anthem and prove your allegiance to the country you will now call yours. Each child will then have their own separate appointment date for their paperwork, although there are no questions and no ceremonies for minors. (I briefly remember them asking me to state my name, at which point they offered to change my name should my mother agree to it--which she didn’t.) For my family this meant making the trip to the office at least five different times, which meant both my parents would have to take a day off work every time they needed to present themselves or each individual child.
In total, it takes a minimum of about 15 years to become a citizen of the United States of America, and the fees are changing on a yearly basis. For most who still have to earn a living for themselves and their families, this process can cost them more than they planned for. In particular, for those who are trying to start a new and better life or for those running from living in terror, the years of wait and the price they must pay can pose a huge obstacle.
I’m thankful the process my family went through ended well. Even though it took so long, it could have gone on longer. And for those who have to wait past the fifteen years, the whole ordeal can be draining. So: to those who wonder why immigrants “don’t just get their papers already,” I would highly suggest putting yourself in the shoes of these people who are only trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.
At the end of the day, I am very grateful to all the immigrants who enter this country with positive attitudes and to the immigrants who continue to fight for their rights as people. These people contribute to our society every day in their own way, all while trying to live the so-called American Dream--and without them, we would not be where we are today.