Immigration: The Search For Clarity
With comprehensive immigration reform a real possibility this year, we look at how our broken system affects Colorado—and how things could come into focus in the near future.
Coming to America
The road to U.S. citizenship is long—but it’s worth the drive.
Like most Americans, I come from a family of immigrants. My dad was born in Russia, and all of my grandparents were from various countries in Eastern Europe. And although I’ve lived in the United States off and on since 1989, I wasn’t an American until almost three years ago.
I was born in Toronto in 1987. When I was two, my parents decided to move our family to Pennsylvania on my father’s American work visa. When my parents determined they wanted to stay long-term, they applied for, and were granted, green cards, which meant we all became lawful permanent residents of the country.
Many years later, I graduated from the University of Denver and made the decision to officially make the States my home. It had nothing to do with my roots; I am a proud Canadian. But I wanted to stop getting pulled aside by TSA for additional scans at the airport. (Really? Again? I’m Canadian!) I wanted to be able to vote. I wanted to get something in return for paying taxes. To be honest, I just thought being a U.S. citizen would make my life easier.
I’d heard the naturalization process could be tedious, but I had lived here legally for a long time. I spoke English. I’d had zero legal issues. I had a degree. I thought it’d be a breeze.
With my status—unmarried, nonmilitary—I was required to have been a lawful permanent resident for at least five years and be at least 18 to begin the process. And it is a process. First there’s the N-400 Application for Naturalization. It costs $680 just to file it and has seven pages of detailed instructions for how to fill it out. For the application itself, you must write down things you never thought you’d have to remember—from every address you called home in the past five years and every place you worked to the days and corresponding dates you spent outside the country. Yes, including that spontaneous three-day trip to Mexico you barely remember.
But that wasn’t the end. There was the fingerprinting and then the naturalization interview, during which I sat with a Department of Homeland Security officer for 30 minutes answering questions about myself and my application before taking the naturalization test. To pass, I had to answer six of 10 civics questions—Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? How many U.S. senators are there?—correctly, which I did. I was then given a time to return for my swearing in.
Nearly four months of paperwork came to an end as I stood in a room full of people and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Once it was over, I breathed a sigh of relief and then took a look around the room. As I scanned the 50-some faces—beaming husbands, mothers with tears in their eyes—I was struck by the exultation I saw. Their joy was palpable. In that moment I realized that the process I’d found bothersome, others had found to be emancipating—maybe even the best thing that had ever happened to them. Unlike me, some of my fellow citizens may have been refugees fleeing war-torn countries; some may have been trying to provide a better life for their families; still others may have been reuniting with loved ones. This was their moment, not mine. I had taken for granted how lucky I was to become an American. They had not. —Daliah Singer
View the full results of our immigration survey.