By Lupe Lopez
It was 1984 and I was meeting a friend at the Immigration office in San Francisco. My friend was running late and asked that I wait for her in the courtroom. She gave me the number of the room and as I walked into the courtroom I saw a small, thin, older woman crying – throwing herself down on her knees begging the judge to not deport her son. “We have been here since he was 4 months old. We don’t even know anyone in Germany.” She cried and told him that they were alone and didn’t have anyone else but each other. The judge looked empathetic but he said his hands were tied. The young man of 19 had committed a crime that made him deportable. The judge said to her “if only your son had become a citizen. You both had plenty of time.” The young man was taken away and the older woman had to be carried out of the courtroom screaming and crying for her son.
I have never forgotten that courtroom scene. In 1984 I never dreamed that someday I would be working with Immigration lawyers or in an immigration law firm. But, since I started working in the field of immigration, there has not been a month that goes by that I have not heard this same scenario in one form or another. Parents become legal permanent residents and then for any of a multitude of reasons, never become U.S. Citizens; leaving their children to make the decision themselves as to whether or not they want to become citizens. They never imagine that one day their child can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or simply that their child may never get into trouble with the law.
In truth, it is hard to have empathy for people who commit a crime. But we have seen many sad stories of young men or women who have simply been in the wrong place; or perhaps they are out with a friend who cares little if someone else is mistakenly involved in their mess. Many young people think that older adults are overly cautious and are not apt to take their advice. It is for these young people that I feel the worst. It is important that we educate and motivate as many permanent residents as possible to become U.S. Citizens. It is equally important for adult permanent residents to become citizens, especially, if they have young children or teenagers. The sad stories, like the one below, of families being permanently separated are endless.
Andy was brought to the U.S. when he was 2 years old. Andy’s mother said she was not smart enough to learn English, so she never even tried. Andy went to college and graduated with an engineering degree. Neither he nor his mother ever sought to become U.S. Citizens. Eventually, Andy got married and had a beautiful baby daughter. He and his wife were young, happy, and living their American dream.
One day Andy’s friends invited him for some food and drinks. He doesn’t remember how many drinks he had, but he felt fine when he got into his car. The rain had started pouring down from the sky and the visibility on the highway was not very good. All of a sudden, Andy was cut off by another car. To avoid a collision, he swerved into another lane but because of the rain he lost control of the vehicle. After everything came to a stop, Andy was seriously injured and the young girl in the other vehicle died on impact. Andy was hospitalized for several weeks and was then transported to the city jail to await his trial. Andy’s blood had been taken and it showed that Andy was driving under the influence. The young woman’s father was relentless, hiring the best attorneys to put Andy away. Because there was a death involved, the prosecution was seeking a harsh penalty.
Andy spent two years in prison. After prison, he was deported. He now lives in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. His wife and little girl visit on weekends. She tried living in Mexico, but the daily trips were too much for his wife. Andy feels broken and bitter. How could this happen. His life was destroyed. Imagine how he feels knowing that had he taken the time to become a U.S. citizen, he would be with his family. Imagine how his mother feels.
The obvious moral to this story is: Don’t drink and drive – ever! But there are other important points to make here. First, it doesn’t matter that you are a good person who never gets into trouble. In our office, we have heard too many stories of good people who have been deported because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Second, the fact that you have lawful permanent residence doesn’t mean that you can’t lose it. There are many types of crimes for which a person can be convicted; and it could make the person deportable. Third, if you are a legal permanent resident and you have children under the age of 18, you should do the most loving and responsible thing for your children and become a U.S. Citizen. Don’t do this when they are in trouble and it’s too late. Do it now! There are thousands of families that have been separated because their loved one just didn’t take the time to become a U.S. Citizen.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has tried to make it easier for many people to become naturalized citizens. At www.uscis.gov , there is a wealth of information; all at your fingertips. They don’t tell you everything; so, if you have ANY criminal or immigration type issues, then you should seek the advice of an attorney. If you have ever been arrested, detained, convicted, or had any immigration issue, speak with one of our attorneys. What may seem simple and easy can quickly turn into something totally unexpected. Not everyone should file for citizenship; but, everyone should at least investigate to see if they are eligible for citizenship.
Applying for Citizenship through Naturalization
The USCIS states that “Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen or national after he or she fulfills the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).”
If you have been a lawful permanent resident for at least 5 years, or 3 years if you obtained your permanent residence through a U.S. citizen spouse, then you may be eligible. There are several requirements to fulfill that may include time in country, time in residence, selective service enrollment, compliance with federal tax rules, fulfillment of child support payments, and a number of other things.
You may also qualify if you are in the military and you meet all the eligibility requirements. Also, if you are the spouse of a member serving in the U.S. armed forces and will be stationed overseas with that military member, you may be eligible for expedited naturalization. This is also true for spouses of U.S. Citizens working abroad for certain U.S. organizations.
Children under the age of 18 who are lawful permanent residents, become U.S. Citizens when their parents are able to naturalize prior to the child’s 18th birthday. If you are a lawful permanent resident with young children, this is the best gift you can give your children.
There are many paths to naturalization. Some children of U.S. citizens may derive citizenship through their parents. For example, if you have a parent (or an adoptive parent) who became a U.S. citizen prior to your birth, you may qualify for derived citizenship. Many service members living abroad have parented children who may qualify if they have the proper documentation and the parent legitimated the child.
The only way, to find out if you qualify for citizenship, is to ask or to investigate. If you are a parent of young children, don’t wait to become a U.S. Citizen. Do it now! Do you think you can’t lose your green card? Do you believe that your children who are green card holders will always be safe? If you truly want to raise your children in the United States and keep your family from being separated, then you should apply for naturalization, now. Doing so, will not only bring you peace of mind, but other benefits only available to U.S. Citizens.
Call us today and ask us how you can become a U.S. Citizen.