By Emanuela Leaf
When I studied the 100 civics (history and government) questions and answers for my naturalization test, the question that stood out to me the most was Question 55: What are two ways that Americans can participate in their democracy?
The handbook lists an array of possible answers. One can participate by voting, joining a political party, helping with a campaign, joining a civic group, joining a community group, giving an elected official your opinion on an issue, calling your Senators and Representatives, publicly supporting or opposing an issue or policy, running for office or writing to a newspaper.
All these actions remind us of the freedoms inherent in a democracy like the United States of America. Freedom to express yourself. Freedom to worship as you wish. Freedom to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
For my family and me, it was a long journey to citizenship – over a decade waiting for a green card and another five-year wait after becoming a permanent resident in order to be eligible for citizenship. Our journey, just like tens of thousands of other immigrants who have applied for green cards and are waiting due to government backlogs – reflects the problems of our broken immigration system.
Nevertheless, according to the most recent analysis by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics, an estimated 8.8 million lawful permanent residents are eligible to apply for citizenship.
In this issue, you will learn about the current U.S. citizenship process, and a young woman’s 20-year journey to enjoy the right to vote in the only country she calls home.
There are other exclusive rights and privileges that are only granted through citizenship, aside from the right to vote and run for political office. These other rights and privileges are just as crucial in enabling a permanent resident to feel like a complete part of our country.
Like the ability to travel with a U.S. passport, which enables you to obtain assistance from the U.S. government when overseas, if necessary. In addition, U.S. citizens generally get priority when petitioning to bring family members permanently to this country, or when applying for federal jobs, since certain jobs with government agencies require U.S. citizenship. Most important is the right to keep your residency. A U.S. citizen’s right to remain in the United States cannot be taken away.
With these rights also come responsibilities. To support and defend the Constitution. Stay informed of the issues affecting your community. Participate in the democratic process. Respect and obey federal, state and local laws. Respect the rights, beliefs and opinions of others. Participate in your local community. Pay income and other taxes honestly, and on time, to federal, state and local authorities. Serve on a jury when called upon. Defend the country if the need should arise.
Citizenship is the common thread that connects all Americans and binds them, not by race or religion, but by the shared values of freedom, liberty and equality.
If you are eligible, take that step. Become a voice for those you know that are undocumented and are unable to begin their path to citizenship. Vote, join a political party and call your federal representatives.
If you are not eligible, you can still write to a newspaper and let them know about the issues you care about, you can volunteer in your community and you can apply yourself in mastering the English language and learning about our history and culture, so that when the time comes you will be ready.