Citizenship is – and should be – the highest aspiration of an immigrant who has created a life in the U.S. Otherwise, residents miss their chance to fully participate in U.S. society and to make their voice heard in the issues that matter most to their families and the country.
The Republican presidential debate just brought the topic of citizenship to the forefront, as immigrant paranoia spreads. The desire to reach the xenophobic sector of the Party’s base made some of the candidates misleadingly speculate about reinterpreting the Constitution to deprive U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrant parents from their birthright to citizenship. James Madison, one of the authors of the U.S. Constitution, must be turning in his grave over the nonsense that is being spouted about the principle that people born in this country are citizens, regardless of where their parents came from.
The hateful tone against immigrants that the Republican primary has taken shows why it is so important to apply for naturalization. You do not need papers for your voice to be heard when blasting anti-immigrant politicians but, in order to prevent them from taking office, full participation is required on the ballot.
There are many other reasons to become a citizen. More jobs – such as government positions – and educational opportunities are available, new civil rights and protections are gained, family members abroad can be sponsored into the country and, fundamentally, the fear of deportation is definitively left behind.
Still, few permanent residents choose to become naturalized citizens. Nearly two thirds of the 5.4 million Mexicans with legal status in the U.S. have yet to take this step. Several studies on citizenship say that difficulties with the English language and the cost of the paperwork are significant deterrents for most immigrants. Worryingly, 26% of Mexican legal residents are uninterested about naturalization, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, celebrated every year on September 17, is the perfect time to think about the choice between being a second-class citizen or an active participant in this nation. Many community organizations offer guidance and support. Do not miss this opportunity. Do it for yourself and for your family.