2015, the year of citizenship
Por Mariel FioriFebruary 2015
I dedicate this first editorial of the year to thinking about certain numbers, which to my concern, are very alarming. Let’s start: two-thirds of the 5.4 million legal immigrants from Mexico who are eligible for U.S. citizenship choose not to become citizens. Their rate of naturalization—36%—is only half that of legal immigrants from all other countries combined, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. 36% is the lowest rate of naturalization compared with any other immigrant group from any other country (who tend to become citizens as soon as they are eligible, in 68% of all the cases).
According to the study, these numbers make it seems clear that overall, Mexicans are not interested in getting their citizenship. They primarily may want to avoid being deported, but at the same time they want to get jobs legally and pay taxes, although without the ability to vote. The goal is to live in peace, as people say. However, this peace is frankly relative, how can someone live with a clean conscience knowing that many of our fellow countrymen, including people close to us, such as relatives and friends, live in so precarious conditions?Precariously at a personal level, or abused in a national political level by certain mass media. Did you not hear some right wing congressman react against president Obama’s executive action on immigration from this past November? Or the reactions of the politicians who voted in favor of deporting the beneficiaries of the deferred action for childhood arrivals, DACA program, (which won’t happen because the president will not sign the amendment), or the comments of republican congressman Steve King, who said that the children from Central America who cross the border are actually smuggling marijuana?
There are other worrying numbers that can explain how such barbarities can be said that disrespect millions of Hispanics (with or without papers, born here or in another country, the negativity is expanded beyond our legal status). For example, the lack of diversity in our representatives in congress is evident. Our current congress has been called (without irony) the “most diverse.” So diverse that an 80% of all congress members are white men; this congress does not include many women (only a 19% are women, when we are a 51% of the population of this country); it does not represent Latinos (only 7% of the congress, and only 3% in the senate, when we are 17% of the population of this country); it neither implies African-americans or Asian-americans. The congress is not representative of the population it supposedly represents (and let’s not go deeper now into analyzing our own state or county).
Why? The answer can be very complex and this page would not be enough to analyze the different reasons. However, I stay with this other number, which is also alarming: half of the Hispanics who live in the United States, meaning, 25 million of people, are eligible to vote in the elections. How many actually went to vote? A little more than 36% of all the registered citizens went to the polls during the last elections (a record low).
Moreover, the current negativity on the topic of immigration (much directed toward Latinos, and the Mexican community in particular) has a great part of its explanation that the two most prominent political parties are disinterested in representing us because we do not become citizens, and even if we do, we don’t participate actively in the civic life.
One of the reasons given for not taking the path to U.S. citizenship, as many people pointed out in the surveys, is not knowing enough English or believing that the citizenship exam is difficult. The truth is that the exam is not difficult. With a bit of practice, and knowing a minimum of English, it can be passed: the key is to study, the same as getting a driver’s license. Another reason given is the high cost: $680 for the citizenship application. But, do you know that there are local organizations such as Catholic Charities that are happy to help pay for this fee? For all this, La Voz wants to help demystify the process. In our March issue, we will show you some of the benefits, including the economic ones (not only the right to vote) of becoming a U.S. citizen. And from April to December 2015, our educative supplement will be dedicated to the questions of the civic exam and the required English vocabulary for the U.S. citizenship exam.
2015 has to be the year of the citizenship. Those who are eligible to become U.S. citizens should take advantage of that privilege for the millions who still can’t enjoy it. And those who are already citizens, should register to vote, and go to vote! Without the vote, we don’t have a voice.
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