We’ve all heard the arguments about illegal immigration. Some argue that the money is the important cost; U.S. citizens wallets are being sucked dry through taxes to pay for the cost of illegal immigration. Others argue that it is a human cost the world suffers if we prevent those seeking a better life from doing so. Some even argue that immigration should not happen at all. They want the borders sealed in an East/West Germany style. No matter what the argument, there is a difficulty that remains; the bureaucratic maze of muck that must be waded through to become a citizen of the United States.
Even I have been guilty of the argument, “I don’t mind people immigrating, just do it legally”. So in order to see just how difficult immigrating legally would be, I visited the Immigration and Naturalization website, www.uscis.gov.
OK. Let’s do this together, shall we? For arguments sake, let’s assume I’m a Mexican National attempting to legally immigrate to the U.S. I hop online to check out USCIS.GOV.
First, are you seeing what I’m seeing? No Spanish translation. I type in Spanish into the search engine and find all kinds of documents printed in Spanish, but no directions in Spanish as to how to get to those documents. I’m all set to take that little customer service quiz to the right and click on “this document was not helpful”, but since I can’t read English yet…
I decide to check out the site map to see if I can’t find where they are hiding their translated pages. No dice. Not even French. I slap you with my white glove, USCIS.GOV.
I guess if I am to continue, I have to assume I have a friend who knows English. “Thank you”, Maria.
Maria says I should click on “Citizenship”. Click. Hmmm. Well, I wasn’t born in the U.S., so Maria says to click on “Naturalization”. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) says I have to what?
The first requirement a citizen hopeful must meet is “a period of continuous residence and physical presence in the United States”. A period? How long is a period? It doesn’t say. I’ll have to navigate around to find out that information. On top of which, I need to find out how I can live and work in the U.S. legally while I wait for my “period” to finish. Guess I should check that out now.
Maria says to click on “Permanent Resident (Green Card)”. Click. Whoa. I have to file all of that paperwork too? I’ll go back and see what the rest of the INA requires from me.
The second requirement to become a citizen is “residence in a particular USCIS District prior to filing”. So not only do I have to figure out how to live and work in the U.S. to complete my “period” but I also have to live where you tell me to? O.K. I’m on it. Next.
The third requirement to become a citizen is “an ability to read, write, and speak English”. Holy Lake Titicaca! At what fluency am I required to be? At a level enough to understand INA Act 211, “(a) Except as provided in subsection (b) and subsection (c) no immigrant shall be admitted into the United States unless at the time of application for admission he (1) has a valid unexpired immigrant visa or was born subsequent to the issuance of such visa of the accompanying parent, and (2) presents a valid unexpired passport or other suitable travel document, or document of identity and nationality, if such document is required under the regulations issued by the Attorney General. With respect to immigrants to be admitted under quotas of quota areas prior to June 30, 1968, no immigrant visa shall be deemed valid unless the immigrant is properly chargeable to the quota area under the quota of which the visa is issued”? Oy.
The fourth requirement is “a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government”. Now, I understand that I should know all about the glorious country I am hoping to become a part of, but isn’t that a little hypocritical that you require me and Maria to know U.S. history when you don’t even require your own populace to know such information. I watch The Tonight Show. I know how much history and geography you people know.
The fifth requirement for naturalization is “good moral character”. Huh? I can understand not wanting to allow criminals into your country, and pardon me for saying this but, wouldn’t that mean a third of your citizens would be denied citizenship if they were to apply? Especially those Enron guys. Phew.
The sixth requirement is “attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution”. “Attachment?”, I ask Maria. She tells me that means I really like it. Oh yes. I really, really like your Constitution. It gives much freedom and protects rights for all; unless you are the President. Then you cannot get love in your office or according to Article II, section 4, you can be impeached. This makes us laugh a little in our country, but the rest of your Constitution is good, si’.
The seventh requirement is “favorable disposition toward the United States”. I would say, because I am a Mexican National, that I have a more favorable disposition to the United States than many of your own citizens. 500,000 of my people attempt to escape to your country every year. I would say that amounts to begging to be a part of your country, no?
Oh, but Maria says I only have to have the last three characteristics and some of the others can be waived. She says I need to read Application N-400, application for citizenship, first. Let’s go see.
Wow. This application costs $330.00 to file. That is still cheaper than paying a coyote $2000 to run me to the border though. Oh wait, an additional $70 for biometrics may be needed. Oh look! The application is only 10 pages long in addition to the other documentation I have to send in. But it’s worth it to be a part of your great nation.
Application N-400; here we go. Part A says I need to fill out my Permanent Resident Card number. Guess I have to do that first.
USCIS.GOV says while I am waiting for my application for Permanent Residency to be approved, I can apply for a work permit. Use form I-765 to apply for a work permit. This approval can take 90 days or more and costs $180.00. Then I am supposed to apply for Permanent Residency at the same time in order for the government to see why I am applying for a work permit. The Permanent Residency Application takes two or more years to be completed and requires a $325 processing fee along with another $70 biometrics fee.
Two years later…
I finally received my permanent resident card. Now I have a number to put on my application for naturalization; so back to application N-400. Darn it. The eligibility section says I need to live here for 5 years as a lawful permanent resident or 3 years and married to a U.S. citizen. Wait, what? Those two years I was already here don’t count?
Five years later…
I’ve finally been here long enough to be eligible for citizenship; back to application N-400. Part 5: Criminal and Record Search, question D., “Are you Hispanic or Latino?” Wow, a whole question just for me?
Then all the regular questions; work history, spouse, children. “Have you ever registered or voted in any elections?” Is that to make sure I’m just like 70% of the general population of U.S. citizens and did not vote?
“Have you ever been a member of a terrorist organization?” I could tell you that, but then I’d have to kill you.
“Have you ever worked for the Nazi Party?” Yeah. Hitler was HUGE in Mexico.
Oh good. We’re to the “Moral Character” section. “Have you ever committed a crime for which you were NOT arrested?” Is the next question, “If so, what, when and where?”
“Have you ever been a habitual drunkard?” I thought you Americans called that an “alcoholic”. By saying habitual, are you inferring that because most other countries consume alcohol on a regular basis without being excessive as Americans do, that somehow we are drunkards?
I’ve finally met all the requirements to apply for citizenship. I filled out the entire form, signed, dated and mailed it with my additional $330.00 and another $70 for biometrics. Now I just need to wait for my interview. Maria says to watch for the letter carefully because if I miss my interview, they administratively close my case and deny my application without notifying me.
They are also going to send me a letter telling me where to go to get fingerprinted for a full FBI background check, an additional $65. Once I receive my interview appointment, which can take up to a year or more, I will need to take my civics and English exam with my interviewer. Then, depending on how well I did that, I may be approved that day. Then I just need to wait for an Oath Allegiance ceremony in my area to be held.
Total wait time to become a Citizen of the United States: roughly 7-8 years
Total Cost: $1200 minimum.
Maria warned me that applications can be denied. If my application is denied, I can reapply though. I just have to file everything and pay all the fees again. Oh, and wait another year or so.
From now on, I’m going to make it a point to go to every single Oath of Allegiance ceremony in my area to shake hands with our new citizens. What a triumph if you make it here legally. It’s as much as is required to graduate from the public school system here. It is no wonder we have 500,000 illegal entrants jumping our borders every year. This is a bureaucratic mess. I understand the concept of selective immigration. Countries don’t want to just hand out citizenships. I prefer to have a nice filter there myself, but this seems a bit excessive.
Congratulations to all those who have faced the immigration system and became citizens. You have my thanks for immigrating here legally and my respect and esteem for jumping through hurdles instead of over borders to live in this country.