I was so proud to see the photo of my Storiboard Nation team member, Vanessa Razo, along with her parents, at the polls where they voted as first-time voters. Yes, you read that right. This was the first time Vanessa and her parents have voted. Not because they didn’t want to vote in the past, or didn’t support previous candidates. It also wasn’t because they were lazy. They didn’t vote because they couldn’t.
It took Vanessa and her parents 23 years to finally become U.S. citizens and be granted the right to vote. That’s 23 years of working, paying taxes and positively contributing to society, while having to jump through years of bureaucratic red tape. They relocated to the United States in 1993 and have been trying every single day to fully take part in the American dream.
Most people think the path to citizenship is easy breezy, like going to get a driver’s license….You just show up, take a short test, smile for the camera, and if you pass the test then you say an oath and become a citizen. If you don’t pass, you just wait a few days and try again on whichever portion of the test you failed.
Not even close!
Well not for the vast majority of residents who spend thousands of dollars and thousands of hours so that they can proudly say they are an “American”. For the small percentage of privileged individuals who somehow get their status fast-tracked, even their process isn’t done in one week–but let’s not even go down that path.
The citizenship process looks very simple on paper:
- Step One: Find Out Whether You Are Eligible. The first question is whether you have a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence for on average 5 years). …Green cards cost $340-$1,500
- Step Two: Overcome Barriers to Your Ineligibility. …
- Step Three: File USCIS Form N-400. …Filing fee is currently $595.00 plus $85.00 biometrics fee
- Step Four: Get Fingerprinted. …
- Step Five: Attend a Citizenship Interview. …Which includes English (ability to speak, read, and write it) and an oral U.S. History and Government test (the test proctor selects the questions)
- Step Six: Attend the Oath Ceremony….This is the step most of us witness through news coverage (which makes it look like a one-day process)
These six steps can take numerous years to complete. For Vanessa and her parents, it took 23 extremely long years. It was no cakewalk. They are fortunate to now be citizens and have full access to the systems, processes, and privileges that other Americans have. Sadly, they have other family members and friends who are still waiting for the day when they can become citizens. I too have friends who are waiting. Some have been waiting for over 25 years. They continue to work, pay bills, pay taxes, pay legal fees, and contribute to our economy, while they wait patiently.
I pray that the results from our recent election does not discourage or intimidate them. Instead, I hope that it helps them to passionately focus on making their dreams come true in the land that has provided them various options, opportunities, and freedoms that their birth country did not provide.
I pray that Vanessa and her parents become more engaged in the political process and encourage others to remain focused and get involved in making sure that this country remains the multicultural home of the free and the land of the brave!
If you know of anyone who is going through the green card and citizenship process, tell them to not lose hope, and don’t get distracted by what they see, read, and hear through media outlets and social media…or even narrow-minded politicians. Tell them to just dig in deep and remember why they are here and why they want so badly to become an American. Our country desperately needs those positive vibes!