Students apply for citizenship in the ‘land of opportunity’
By Jenna Spoont and Noah Levine, Staff Reporters
Senior Maria Alvarez says that becoming an American citizen is about the combination of her past and her future. She still longs for aspects of her life in her hometown of Cali, Colombia: the hikes in the mountains, learning to dance with her cousins and the family and friends of her first home. But America is her home now too, she says, and she sees a future for herself here, a place where she feels like a permanent part of its society—another place where she belongs.
After 12 years of United States residency, Alvarez is now in the process of taking the next step by gaining U.S. citizenship. Alvarez plans to become a dual citizen, meaning that she will retain citizenship status in both the U.S. and Colombia. She is now 18 years old and will be applying for citizenship on her own, rather than gaining citizenship through her parents’ application. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the advantages of becoming a citizen include the right to vote, travel, collect benefits and become a Federal employee or elected official.
“I value being able to completely participate in this country because I’ve lived here for so long,” Alvarez said. “As an 18-year-old, I would like to be able to vote and to participate in politics, and to be able to just live here because it’s a part of my life.”
Alvarez left Colombia when she was six and her father was offered a job in Ohio. Increasing violence also threatened her family’s safety, though the political strife has since improved.
“The political situation was difficult,” Alvarez said. “In the late ’90s, when we moved, there was a peak of the drug cartel movement and terrorist groups. There were limitations to our freedoms because we couldn’t do everything we wanted to, out of fear.”
Alvarez chose to take the path of naturalization go gain citizenship. It is the next step for foreigners who already have a green card, a document that establishes permanent residency in the U.S. As part of the application, Alvarez must interview with an immigration official and take a civics and English exam.
“Why does the American flag have 13 stripes?” and “What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?” are examples of questions that could appear on the test, among many others.
“It’s a complicated process. There’s a lot of paperwork to fill out, a lot of documents to present. I think getting all of that together is difficult,” Alvarez said.
For many immigrants, receiving a green card is a key step toward living in America and possibly eventual citizenship. A green card permits an immigrant to legally work and reside in the U.S. on a permanent basis. Immigrants can work and live in the U.S. with a visa, but it only authorizes temporary privileges for a certain time.
Junior Ignacio Magaña came to the U.S. in 2005 from Mexico City because his father was offered a job in America.
“My dad was really worried that if he didn’t get the job, we would have to leave in 30 days,” Magaña said. “If he had been laid off, and he didn’t have the green card yet, we would have to go back to Mexico. It was very stressful.”
The next phase of the citizenship process involves applying for a green card. Sophomore Phoebe Todd was able obtain her green card after living in the U.S. for five years. She moved to the U.S. from Mexico when she was three years old, but her family is of British decent.
The green card “didn’t make much of a difference for me because I didn’t work,” Todd said. “But my brothers and sisters had trouble getting jobs and working in places because they weren’t citizens.”
According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, current green cards are valid for ten years and must be renewed before they expire.
After possessing a green card for five years, an immigrant can then apply for citizenship. Sophomore Emer Ryle, who was born in Ireland, is currently obtaining her citizenship with her parents.
“I think the interview process was more important [for my parents] than the test,” Ryle said. The interview involved “talking to someone from the state. They asked questions about where they were from, where they grew up and why they were not citizens already.”
Ryle’s parents completed the naturalization process so that their children could easily attain their own citizenship. For Ryle, this means that she will only have to fill out some easy forms to become a U.S. citizen, since her parents got citizenship while she was a legal minor in their custody.
French teacher Josée Brouard has considered citizenship since she moved to the U.S. from Quebec, Canada 15 years ago.
“At this point, it wouldn’t be necessary [to become a U.S. citizen] because of the green card,” Brouard said. “I stand up for the pledge of allegiance, I watch the political debates, I am very into the American culture [and] I feel very much like [I am] part of the country.”
Junior Annika Ritz and senior Sebastian Ritz moved to the U.S. from Germany in 2000. Both siblings retain German citizenship and say that they may get U.S. citizenship with their family at some point. With college fast approaching, they are looking at universities in both Germany and America, which is a choice that will significantly affect their futures.
“The tough part is [that] some [college] majors don’t transfer internationally, which means I’d have to pick the U.S. or Germany [to live in],” Annika Ritz said. It is “a tough decision. The good part is that throughout my life, I’ll always have both countries and cultures open because I’m fluent in both languages. It would be a challenge though because I’ve never had German classroom instruction, besides for kindergarten.”
If Annika Ritz chooses to study medicine in Germany, for example, the degree would not easily allow her to practice in the U.S., meaning that where she studies might be where she chooses to live. Sebastian Ritz will be attending the Munich Business School in Munich, Germany next year, but he plans to use his degree to work in America when he is older.
“I talked to my parents and researched online. [I] looked to see where good business schools are. With my German background I decided to go to Germany,” Sebastian Ritz said. “It was kind of tough. I kind of grew up here from first grade to now so it’ll be a big change next year.”
Junior Orla Rea, who was born in London and moved to the U.S. in 2009, has chosen to attend college in the U.S. because of the opportunities in the American system.
“I feel like there’s a lot more variety of what you can do here,” Rea said. “In England, since it’s a smaller country, it’s more limited to what colleges you can to go to, or what kind of job you’re going to go into. I feel like in the U.S., anything can happen in terms of career and college.”
Though some countries allow their citizens only exclusive citizenship, a defining feature of the United States is that it allows its citizens to retain or gain citizenship from other countries.
Rea has had dual citizenship for most of her life, meaning that she can be a citizen of two countries, since her mother is an American citizen. Dual citizenship comes with challenges, however. One difficulty Rea encounters is keeping track of the expiration dates of both of her passports.
“When [the passports] were out of date and we had to renew them, we had to go to the U.S. Embassy in London,” Rea said. “It’s a really long process. You have to go through all of these security measures and wait in line for about three hours to get your passport renewed. I guess it’s easier than applying for a visa when you’re here [in the U.S.].”
Junior Julianna Bradley has been an American citizen for her entire life, but she recently obtained her second citizenship in Italy. Bradley got the citizenship along with her mother and sister, senior Chrissy Bradley.
“My one great grandpa, whom my mother never met, moved to America and then moved back to Italy so we weren’t sure whether he got his citizenship again when he went back to Italy,” Julianna Bradley said.
When she was younger, her mother decided to try to regain Italian citizenship. After finding a draft card proving that Julianna Bradley’s great grandfather was a citizen and verifying that her mother is fluent in Italian, her mother was awarded citizenship. Julianna Bradley also gained Italian citizenship through her mother.
Because of my citizenship, “I can play for the Italian national team for soccer. That’s something that I’ve really looked into,” Julianna Bradley said. “It’s still a cool option if I ever wanted to play in the Olympics.”
Julianna Bradley could be an athlete, own property or vote in Italy thanks to her Italian citizenship.
The possibility of dual citizenship made the decision to apply for citizenship easier for Alvarez.
Dual citizenship “is really important to me because I wouldn’t want to give up my Colombian citizenship, but at the same time I do want to become an American citizen,” she said. “So it’s nice that I still get to be a part of Colombia, which is where I came from, and I get to be a part of the Untied States, which is where I’ve grown up.”
A defining factor of American citizenship is that it allows citizens to retain the cultures and heritage of where they come from or keep a link with the history of their families.
“Being American is who you are, not where you’re from,” Julianna Bradley said.
Jenna Spoont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.