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Why Citizenship?

As we focus on individuals who are seeking pathways to citizenship this month, Carmen Osorio, a DOJ Accredited Representative on staff in Chicagoland, sat with us to answer some questions about citizenship. To find out more about the process of naturalization, please read more here.

Thank you for learning more with us and hearing from Carmen!

  • What would you like people to know about the process to gain citizenship in the U.S.?

There are so many thoughts I have on this! For many immigrants particularly from the Mexican community, the ultimate goal is the green card. For others, citizenship solidifies their green card process, and it can also become a necessity when filing for a family member.

The process itself is still complicated. Many think it is just passing the English and Civics exams. But remember, English is not their first language, and it is really hard for some to get to this level. For a lot of people having to study and learn to speak English and advocate for themselves can be traumatizing. During the exam, even with their attorney/DOJ representative present in the room, there are many questions that only they can answer and explain. This is why it’s so important that we prepare the client for their interview, helping to remove the anxiety of the questions being asked and focusing on their answers.

  • Why do you say that the ultimate stage for many immigrants is to get a green card and not necessarily pursue citizenship?

The green card stage offers protection and work authorization. It offers them a way to say both to themselves and the community, “immigration knows who I am.”  It allows them to breathe for a moment and focus on other aspects of their lives like family, education, and their mental wellbeing. However, citizenship may still be a necessity either because they desire to vote and become a part of that experience, or they want to petition for a family member and in some cases, it requires them to have citizenship status.

  • Have you ever seen someone go through that the hurdle of the exam? How do you deal with it as their representative?

Oh, that’s hard because you want the best outcome for them. Even though we screen them for English competency, it can be hard to draw the line between someone who will be able to pass and someone who won’t. Years ago, the timing for the process was long, and we had more wiggle room to determine who would be able to pass with support from English classes. Now there are shorter processing times. We need to determine at that moment if they can pass or not. I want the best for them, but I also want them to be confident in that interview. Often times, they are being asked many questions, not only yes or no questions. The officer might have a particular question where they need to go further and requires some explanation – really showing an understanding of the English language.

  • What are other hurdles someone faces in this process?

An arrest history can be a hurdle that requires some legal analysis. Often times, it will make someone ineligible, but sometimes it does not. The stigma of arrest can be shameful, and it can sometimes prevent people from even getting a legal consult on whether they can apply for citizenship. It can be hard for people to walk through decisions they’ve made or circumstances they found themselves in. It is hard to relive those moments in time.

We also look through their history with immigration, like how they obtained their green card. For many, the citizenship stage is the last interaction they will have with immigration. Many people have had a long history with the U.S. – especially Mexican nationals. There is a long history and connection both Mexico and the U.S. have had.

  • Why does someone want citizenship?

Ultimately, it is about the right to be able to vote, having a word in the decisions being made in this country. For the majority though, even after getting citizenship, you can still feel that you are “the other.” It’s very difficult to walk through that. On paper, “Yes, I’m a U.S. citizen!” but out in society, I am still brown, the immigrant, the other, an illegal. In some situations, this can be a wakening experience because you’re denouncing your “loyalty” to your home country, and still feel like that does not matter.

  • What has your experience been?

I become a citizen during the Trump administration. I look back at it now through the pictures, and in my mind I had as this big climatic event, but then it didn’t make me feel any different. I grew up in the U.S.; I went through the school system here. I knew I was Mexican and had ties there, but I had been here for so long.

Everything that was going on with the Trump administration, it felt slightly fake. In the sense that I’m getting citizenship but at the same time this administration is not friendly to immigrants. I was thinking of my clients at that time with everything that happened with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and had a hard time accepting the two realities I was living in.

But I came through that time, and now I stand proud. Here is another immigrant that is able to vote and I’m going to use my vote. Here is an immigrant that will use her voice!

To find out more about our Immigration Legal Services program, please click here.

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