Immigration rhetoric distorts the issues Path to citizenship harder than most people imagine

Lee McClelland

I never had the chance to choose where I was born. Perhaps when I was in the womb kicking, I was not merely developing into a small human being, but urging my mother to venture north to Canada or south to Mexico.

Nonetheless, I was born in Marquette. I came out crying and screaming as a U.S. citizen.

Does that make me an American?

Citizenship seems like such a simple concept, but I wonder if there isn’t more to this subject than just the place where your mother’s water broke.

After all, America is a nation of immigrants, a vast melting pot of ethnicity, culture and religion.

People have been coming to America for a better life ever since the birth of this nation. My great grandparents were immigrants. My great grandfather hailed from Belgium; he left at the end of WWI, when his family ran out of dogs to feed the German soldiers who occupied his home. My great grandmother came from England; she made trips back and forth, bringing her siblings to America because their mother was ill and they wanted an opportunity for a better life.

Isn’t that the quintessential American story? Two young people coming from their homeland to a new place, hoping their lives won’t be wrought with loss, that maybe they won’t have to suffer like their parents did.

I think of these things and ask myself, what does it mean to be an American?

I am unsure when I watch the news, when I listen to NPR or when I read the newspaper. It seems politicians are saying illegal immigrants are coming and stealing jobs; they’re living off the government and receiving a free education; they are having children and staying illegally. They don’t immigrate because they harbor a dark past, so I’ve heard.

I wonder if these politicians, those naysayers, realize just how hard it is to become an American citizen or get a greencard.

Well, there are many exceptions for refugees or those seeking asylum, so I’ll focus on the typical naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen.

To take the naturalization test, you must have had your green card for at least five years. Before you can take the test, you have to submit the N-400 application and $680 in processing fees. Assuming you pass round one, you’ll be fingerprinted, which is part of round two. Round three is the naturalization test and interview process.

The test is part-English, part- American civics. You have to pass both written portions and oral testing. Afterwards, you are interviewed.

If you pass through all of these requirements, you’ll take the Oath of Allegiance.

Now you’re a citizen. While this seems simple and straightforward, take a few things into account.

What if you are from a struggling, impoverished family? The $680 fee is substantial when considering that the average household income for a family in Mexico is $995 a month. That’s a middle class family’s income in Mexico.

Then there is the getting to America. That takes a considerable amount of money. It is no wonder there are people immigrating illegally into America.

U.S. citizens often say it is unfair that these people get to stay. I think this has to do with the rhetoric that surrounds immigration.

Immigrant, alien, foreigner: these are the words we use to refer to those that come to the United States. They are not exactly welcoming. Those born in the United States don’t realize how much we depend on immigration.

Think of some of the most influential people in history. Albert Einstein, renowned physicist from Germany; Ieoh Ming Pei, famous 20th century architect from China; Madeleine Albright, first female secretary of state from Czechoslovakia; Joseph Pulitzer, famed 19th century journalist from Hungary; Irving Berlin, song writer from Russia who wrote famous tunes such as “White Christmas” and “God Bless America.”

Imagine a world where these people were denied citizenship to the United States. Would we know E=MC2 had Einstein stayed in Germany during WWII? What would a patriot be without “God Bless America?”

It happens every day. People are turned away and deported. While the issue is more complex than just this column or the debates occurring in communities around the country, it would do you good to think about that question: what does it mean to be an American? Why do you deserve citizenship?

It’s easy to forget that we live in a prosperous, wealthy nation. On a global level, we are the one percent.

How do we help the other 99 percent elsewhere, the ones that want to be among the wealthy?

The streets paved with gold still entice people from all over the world. Let us not liquidate our most precious resource, our global magnetism.