Cepeda column: My mom finally became a U.S. citizen, thanks to Donald Trump
CHICAGO — Thank you, thank you, thank you, President Trump.
I offer my gratitude because after years of being the last of my immigrant family members to undertake the naturalization process, my mother just took the oath to become a U.S. citizen.
It finally happened after 10 years of prodding and needling and of painting doomsday scenarios about crazy, obscure ways that legal permanent residents can accidentally become deportable. For instance, paperwork mishaps like failing to file a change of address form to the Department of Homeland Security within 10 days of a move could put a green card holder at risk of fines, jail or even deportation.
But, ultimately, all it took was a new president promising to do his best to rid the country of immigrants to get her to undertake the long, arduous process.
She started her application process less than a month after the November election and now I can sleep easy knowing that no bureaucratic slip-up will send my mom back to the country where she spent only the first third of her life.
My mom was hardly alone in hesitating to make the leap. Though Mexicans represent the largest group of legal permanent residents, their rate of naturalization is only about half that of green card holders from all other countries combined, according to the most recent tally by the Pew Research Center.
There are many reasons for this: Many of the immigrants surveyed indicated that they weren’t engaging in the process because they felt their English skills were not good enough or were scared that the citizenship test would be too difficult.
In my mom’s case, neither of those was an issue. What had been keeping her from taking the plunge was a combination of comfort with her legal status and the hassle of undertaking a complex administrative process.
However, once mere legal permanent residence status stopped feeling like the most secure way to ensure her future in the United States, it was an easy decision.
But people who tsk-tsk that more eligible immigrants don’t naturalize rarely realize that it takes money and time that many people don’t have.
The process took six months from filing the initial forms to completing the interviews and taking the test. But it was, effectively, a walk in the park since she’s an educated professional who has been a fluent English speaker for more than 40 years. And she had all the time in the world to manage the process because she recently retired. Plus, the $800 that it cost to pay for the application, get photos taken, travel to multiple appointments, and so on, was of little consequence to her budget.
For someone without all those resources, a task that could take up to a year or more is far less attainable than an uninformed observer might imagine. According to Pew, 94 percent of those who say they have not naturalized cite the cost of the application.
There are nonprofit groups out there like The New Americans Campaign, a nonpartisan national network of organizations helping immigrants navigate and pay for the citizenship process. Since its inception in 2011, the Campaign has helped more than 250,000 applicants and saved them more than $206 million in legal and application fees, but the group is hardly a household name.
Still, the latest data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says that 752,800 people were naturalized in fiscal year 2016 — a little higher than the average of 740,000 per year over the last decade, an increase that’s almost surely due to people who wanted to be eligible to vote in the 2016 election. But it will be some time before statisticians can determine whether, or how many, new U.S. citizens resulted directly from fears prompted by Trump’s election.
What counts is that last week in Chicago my mother and 114 other men and women from 33 countries spanning Armenia to the United Kingdom closed their journeys as immigrants and took the oath to be upstanding and honorable citizens.
They joyously swore to support our Constitution, renounce allegiance to all other countries, and also vowed to bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law.
That’s right, America, my mom’s got your back!
Hopefully, President Trump will inspire an unprecedented number of immigrants to become new Americans. And may they be energized to help others attain the safety of citizenship.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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