It’s hard to imagine that we as individuals can do anything about the broken immigration system that is tearing many of our families apart.
But we can.
There is one step that, if taken together, could have the power to protect our families and move our communities forward.
More than 8 million immigrants in the United States have green cards and are eligible to become U.S. citizens. Yet only 8 percent of eligible immigrants naturalize each year.
Imagine what would happen if the millions of us who are eligible to become citizens actually took that step.
We would be able to vote. But the benefits of citizenship don’t end there.
We would be able keep our families together. As naturalized U.S. citizens, we could petition for our relatives. We would get automatic citizenship for our children under 18 who are Lawful Permanent Residents. And unlike green card holders who can be deported, U.S. citizens are protected from the threat of deportation, and so are their children.
We would be able to travel freely, visit a sick relative or attend a wedding without worrying that we might not be allowed back in the country if we leave for six months.
We would be able to access public benefits like Medicare and Supplemental Security Income. If we choose to retire abroad, we would be able to keep our Social Security retirement income – and of course visit our grandchildren.
We would be able to apply for government jobs that are only available to U.S. citizens. And studies have shown that immigrants who naturalize also see an increase in income!
So why aren’t more green card holders applying for citizenship?
Some may be held back by financial and language barriers. But a group of organizations that form part of the national New Americans Campaign are working to reduce these barriers.
For example, it costs $680 to file for citizenship. But if your income falls below poverty level, you can qualify for a fee waiver.
If you don’t speak English well you may think that limits your chances of becoming a citizen. But if you have been here for many years, you can qualify to take the exam in your native language.
Becoming a U.S. citizen doesn’t mean giving up citizenship in our home country – the United States allows for dual citizenship.
With so many immigrants eligible to apply for citizenship, the biggest challenge may simply be a lack of information.
That’s why this year, media that serve immigrant communities are coming together with the national organization New America Media to help inform our audiences about the importance of citizenship.
We are calling on our audiences to take the important step of becoming American citizens.
(This editorial was produced in association with New America Media (newamericamedia.org.)