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Friday, September 29, 2023


UH students share their struggles toward citizenship


Immigration and citizenship has recently been brought to light by an executive order put out by President Barack Obama, allowing five million illegal immigrants to stay in the United States. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

“(People) have no idea how good you have it here (in the United States) compared to other parts of the world.”

Venezuelan native Jonathan Fernandez is an immigrant. The media production senior came to the United States as a 10-year-old after his mother and father sought political asylum from the harsh rule of socialist Hugo Chavez.

His journey to becoming a citizen was an easy one in retrospect. Others, including biology junior Julie Garcia and media production freshman Marius Klovning, have had more troubling experiences with the process of obtaining citizenship or a green card.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, approximately 6 million petitions for citizenship are made by potential candidates and their employers. Because of the lack of dual citizenship from Norway, Klovning is not able to obtain American citizenship, instead opting to receive a green card — which allows an immigrant to gain permanent residency without the advantage of gaining citizenship.

“My dad’s company is the one that took care of everything for us,” Klovning said. “I’m trying to get my green card, and if I don’t get it by the end of this school year, I’m going to have to leave the (United States) for an entire year. It’s a process that I really don’t have any control over.”

For Fernandez, gaining citizenship wasn’t a hassle. With his father being an engineer, his family was able to make a case to immigration authorities that their lives in Venezuela had been compromised due to political persecution and that they were able to apply for residency in Florida.


Fernandez went through his citizenship ceremony in 2012, applying after being a permanent resident for seven years. | Courtesy of Jonathan Fernandez

“When I moved to the U.S., it was like a huge culture shock. I had no idea this country existed,” Fernandez said. “Things like ketchup — I thought that was invented in Venezuela, and then I moved here and I was like ‘What the hell?’ ”

Back to Basics

A total of 11 million undocumented immigrants are living in the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security. President Obama recently announced plans to issue an executive order that would keep approximately five million these undocumented immigrants from being deported, which received backlash from Republicans. Of those five million, four million have had children – born American citizens because they were born on U.S. soil – giving them incentive, according to Obama, to stay in the United States.

The President’s executive order could pave the way to a bill being passed about comprehensive immigration reform.  “Pass a bill,” has been continually repeated by Obama as critics, mainly Republicans, have weighed in with their opinions.

About 54 percent of those undocumented immigrants have been in the country for more than ten years, having arrived between 1999 and 2004. The majority of those undocumented are also between the ages of 25 and 44, according to The New York Times.

“What we want is a system in which people are held accountable, a system in which those who have broken the law have to make some amends and get right with the law,” Obama said in a video released on the official White House website. “But also, we want a system that takes into account that there are good people out there who made a mistake but are very much our neighbors, our friends.”

Bumps on the Road

Fernandez was a permanent resident for seven years before he was able to apply for and gain citizenship in 2012. Since moving to the United States, he has not returned to Venezuela.

“I want to (go back to Venezuela) just to see family,” Fernandez said. “I’m never going to be embarrassed to say that I am from there. I’m never going to forget. I’m proud to be from there, to have been born there and to say that I have family there. But it’s just that the country that it could be today is not; it’s just a really horrible place that could be so much better – that to just go there would make me utterly depressed, so why even bother?”

On the other hand, Garcia – who chose to have her real name withheld for fear that her citizenship experience would be further delayed – tried to obtain a green card for three years with little success before being able to acquire one. Garcia, a Mexican native, has been living in the U.S. since she was six.

“The process is a little disheartening,” Garcia said. “All I want is to be able to get the benefits that you get from becoming an American citizen. It really sucks that the process took so long.”

Garcia suspects that she was unable to get her green card in an orderly fashion because she is from Mexico and married her American-born husband at the age of 18. She said she felt alienated by the fact that a stigma about Mexicans preceded her and may have delayed her green card application. Garcia has had her green card for four years, and recently started the process of acquiring naturalization. She hopes that this process will be easier than the first.

“I think they just thought that I was another person who jumped the fence,” Garcia said. “I came to school here on a Visa, and that’s how I met my husband. I got here in the most humane way possible, and it really hurts that I think they just threw me in with the rest of the ‘illegals.’ ”

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