Fernando Duran, 26, was born in Mexico City and it took him 16 years to become a US citizen. What’s the hold up? There are hundreds of thousands of young Latinos like Fernando who are waiting for become citizens to be able to contribute their vote to this country and who are eager to access college more easily. However, states are legalizing marihuana before legalizing ambitious immigrants like Fernando. What’s up with that?! Marihuana isn’t helping American immigrants follow their dreams.
mitú challenges you to tell us what being a Latino in the US means to you in your own story, with a social media post, a meme, or any way you feel most comfortable using #WeAreAmerica. Together, we will create a beautiful portrait of what it means to be Latino in the US.
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Becoming a U.S. resident or citizen has never been an easy process. The country’s immigration system is a convoluted mess that sharply leans in favor of high-wealth individuals and under the Trump administration that is becoming more apparent than ever.
But 2020 has been an especially challenging year for immigrants seeking to complete their citizenship process.
Although it’s common for interest in naturalization to spike in the months leading up to presidential elections, the Coronavirus pandemic forced the citizenship process to a grinding halt in March. The outbreak shut offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) all across the country. And although many of these offices reopened in July, there is a widening backlog of applications.
Meanwhile, on October 2, looming fee increases could leave applications and citizenship out of reach for tens of thousands of immigrants, as the process becomes significantly more costly.
Many migrant advocacy groups are hosting events meant to help immigrants complete their applications before prices are set to rise.
In South Florida, the Office of New Americans (ONA) — a public-private partnership between Miami-Dade County and non-profit legal service providers — launched its second Miami Citizenship Week on Sept. 11. This 10-day event is designed to help immigrants with free legal support so participants can beat the October 2 deadline.
In addition, the event will host a mix of celebrations meant to highlight the social and economic contributions of South Florida’s large immigrant communities.
“I think in Miami we talk about how we are diverse and how we are adjacent to Latin America, but we never take a moment to celebrate immigrants and the amazing work that they do whether it’s the nurses in our hospitals, the drivers that drive our buses, small business owners,” said Krystina François, ONA’s executive director. “We need to reclaim the narrative around immigrants and around our communities because it’s what makes us great.”
However, thanks to Covid-19 restrictions, the events will all be hosted online.
Much like any other event, Covid-19 has greatly impacted this year’s “Citizenship Week.” Therefore, the event will be hosted virtually. That includes the Mega Citizenship Clinic, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 16-20. At the event, pro-bono lawyers from the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Americans for Immigrant Justice and other groups will connect with attendees one-on-one on Zoom and walk them through the process of filling out the 20-page citizenship application form.
The clinic is open to immigrants eligible to become naturalized citizens, meaning permanent residents who have had a green card for at least five years.
Cities like Dallas are also getting in on similar events, meant to welcome new residents and citizens into the city.
Dallas’ Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs is hosting a series of virtual events from Sept. 12 to Sept. 20 in honor of Welcoming Week. The virtual events aim to promote Dallas’ diverse communities and to unite all residents, including immigrants and refugees.
According to the City of Dallas, this year’s theme is Creating Home Together, and it emphasizes the importance of coming together as a community to build a more inclusive city for everyone.
A Council Member, Jaime Resendez, will host a virtual program on Tuesday at 11 a.m. that celebrates Latinx art and culture. The event will celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Mayor Eric Johnson will read the Welcoming Week Proclamation, and the event will feature art exhibitions and performances showcasing the talents of performers and artists across Dallas.
Attendees will also have a chance to learn more about the availability of DACA and a citizenship workshop will take place where articipants will learn how to complete their N-400 application for citizenship. Volunteer immigration attorneys and accredited representatives from the Department of Justice will be there for assistance.
The events come as fees for several immigration proceedings are set to rise by dramatic amounts come October 1.
Starting on October 2, the financial barrier will grow even taller for many immigrants as fees are set to increase. The fee to apply for U.S. citizenship will increase from $640 to $1,160 if filed online, or $ 1,170 in paper filing, a more than 80% increase in cost.
“In the middle of an economic downturn, an increase of $520 is a really big amount,” François told the Miami-Herald.
Aside from the fee increase, many non-citizen immigrants never truly felt the need to become citizens. That was until the Coronavirus pandemic hit and had many questioning their status in the country.
“There are people who up until this COVID crisis, their status as a permanent resident didn’t impact their day-to-day life … but then the pandemic has given them another reason of why it’s important to take that extra step and become a citizen, because of the additional rights and protections that are afforded to you, but also to just have a sense of security and stability in a crisis.”
April 1 is officially Census Day. That means between April and the end of July you can expect someone to knock on your door and ask you a couple of questions such as “The number of people living or staying at your home” and “is your home owned or rented?” and “The sex of each person in the household.” This month, however, people are already getting notices to let them know what will be taking place in a couple of months. There are some people in the country that are not looking forward to this kind of intrusion. Some of those people are actually quite afraid of answering personal questions.
Even though the Census 2020 will not include any citizenship questions, people are still suspicious about answering the survey at all.
On January 10, Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, spoke in front of Congress to inform them that the Latino community is afraid of opening their doors to Census workers and answering their questions.
“They believe there will be a citizenship question on the form despite its absence and many fear how the data will be used,” Vargas said. His entire statement was posted on Facebook. “This is exacerbated by a hostile environment toward immigrants propagated by this administration.”
But it’s not just the Latino community that is cautious about answering the Census questions but Asians too.
“When the administration proposed to add the citizenship question without any testing, we knew right away we had a five-alarm fire … like any fire, the damage that has been done takes time to repair,” John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, also told Congress, according to NBC News.
The hearing last week took place in an effort to understand why there are difficulties in getting accurate information from people living in the U.S. One of the obstacles that were discussed, aside from their fear of citizenship questions, is that Census workers are not reaching out to “hard-to-count” communities.
“Hard-to-count communities are in every state and district, from large urban areas to rural and remote communities, including American Indian tribal lands and reservations,” Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told NBC News.
So why is it important for everyone to answer the Census 2020 questions accurately?
Some people might not truly grasp the severity of answering the Census 2020 questions. It’s not just a survey but a way to track every person living in the U.S. to get proper funding for programs, schools, and a lot more.
“The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census be taken every ten years to count all people—both citizens and non-citizens—living in the United States,” a PBS report states. “Responding to the Census is mandatory because getting a complete and accurate count of the population is critically important. An accurate count of the population serves as the basis for fair political representation and plays a vital role in many areas of public life.”
Aside from public funding, having an accurate assessment of each individual will help in times of natural disasters and emergency responses. Federal funds are also distributed based on population. Another crucial factor in gathering accurate information is that when it comes to voting, the government understands how many representatives are needed for each district.
While the Census has always faced issues in trying to gather the most accurate information, it was during the Trump Administration that minority communities became distrusting of information the government was requesting.
“President Trump is adding the citizenship question into his toxic stew of racist rants and draconian policies in order to stoke fear, undercount, and strip political power from immigrant communities,” Sarah Brannon, Managing Attorney, ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement last summer.
Steven Choi, Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition, added to her sentiment by saying, “A citizenship question on the U.S. census is toxic to New York’s four million immigrants and all New Yorkers, who stand to lose millions of dollars in federal aid and representation in Congress. We will use every tool at our disposal to fight for a fair and accurate count. This is our New York and we’re not going to lose a dime, or our voices, to the Trump administration in Washington D.C.”
About a month later, Trump gave up his Census fight. Yet still, people remain fearful and untrusting of government questions. But can you blame them?