On Aug. 17, after a complicated immigration process that began six years ago when my parents applied to political asylum, I finally had the privilege of becoming an American citizen.
As I raised my right hand and pledged loyalty to my new country, I couldn’t stop thinking on what the concept of citizenship has become in the United States. Specifically, in the 21st century, obtaining American citizenship has become a privilege that brings to light the worst of our broken immigration system.
In fact, today, becoming an American citizen is not about hard work. Instead, it is about being lucky. The truth is that my family became “legal” in this country not because we earned our “legality” through hard work, but because our lives were presented with circumstances that we did not control.
At the end of the day, we didn’t choose to be born in a country, like Venezuela, that is going through one of the worst financial and political crises the world has ever seen. We didn’t choose to be politically persecuted. We didn’t choose to have our human rights violated by a totalitarian regime. Yet those are the main reasons behind our legal status adjustment.
One might argue that my family migrated to the United States “legally” and that we have plenty of reasons to receive documentation from the U.S. government. But, so do the thousands of children from Central America who are currently detained in private prisons and who have to represent themselves in court because the government has decided not to provide them with government-appointed attorneys. Also, what bigger reason is worthy of citizenship than spending numerous years living in, contributing to, and taking care of the United States of America like millions of undocumented Americans — yes, Americans! — have done.
One might also argue that since I attend an Ivy League institution, like Princeton University, I am of value to the future of our country, so I deserve to be an American citizen. But so do the hundreds of undocumented students who attend other Ivy League institutions, top-tier colleges, public and private state universities, and community colleges all throughout the continental United States.
By Samuel Vilchez Santiago for Orlando Sentinel
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