Thuillier: Naturalization process proves to be a significant hurdle for underprivileged applicants

Marcus Thuillier, Columnist

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Yesterday morning I was sworn in as an American citizen.

I took all the right steps and committed to the naturalization process. However, I am not writing this column to flaunt my achievement. I am writing this because I know and recognize the reasons my green card and naturalization process went so quickly. I am aware of the incredible privilege I benefited from all the way through my application and how that privilege has defined my experience completing the naturalization process.

I’m white and from a Western European country. I have a college education. My parents have a college education. When the immigration officers reviewed my documents, they didn’t see me as another immigrant from an underdeveloped country. They saw me as a prime candidate with little to no risk to this country.

The road to U.S citizenship is a long and treacherous road for any immigrant. The average time for naturalization takes on average between 14 and 20 months, assuming there are no delays, denials or any other problems. If everything works out well, after 5 consecutive years of living in this country with a green card and a $725 fee, you can become an American citizen.

I first set foot in this country in 2011. I came on an L2 visa as a minor when my father moved to the Bay Area for work. He got an L1 visa for intra-company transfer when his company in France was bought by an American company and they moved him over. A little over a year later, I got a green card. Seven years later, I applied for citizenship.

Nine months after, I got naturalized.

I’ll take a minute to try to express what this means to me.

This country is full of opportunities.

It is a beautiful country, with a high level of education, beautiful landscapes and magnificent cities. It has warm, diverse and interesting people. There are so many different cultures represented here and the people from different backgrounds make the prospect of living and working here in the future that much more enjoyable. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to contribute to this country with everything that I have.

Often, that is a point of contention for some who suggest that the immigrant’s country of origin has a bearing on their capacity to contribute to the American society. They can’t tell me that someone fleeing tyranny in another country, risking their life, if they spent just a second more in their home country, is a “worse” immigrant than me or that they don’t somehow deserve to live in this country permanently. It comes down to this.

The system is broken if you’re not a candidate like me.

Two main factors hold applicants back. First, the wait time on green cards can get so long that the State Department keeps statistics on how many applicants die while waiting for their application to be processed. For citizenship applications, wait times are increasing, too. However, the most problematic part of the naturalization process is the costs attached to it.

For people applying for citizenship, the filing fee might be a limiting factor. Or maybe you need to provide more documentation, which can be an additional financial burden. A new regulation to be implemented suggests producing ten years of travel history instead of five, a perfect example of the additional cost for some people. Overall, this would restrict more lower-income applicants from even considering applying in the first place.

Both the cost and the long waiting times put people in a complicated situation. As citizenship applications rise during presidential election years, longer waiting times can keep potential citizens from voting and can swing elections. Maybe cost will force families to choose which of their family members “need” the citizenship the most. This could also force people into living or working situation changes that directly impact their application, essentially sending them back to square one.

I feel incredibly grateful today that I was given the opportunity to become a citizen of this country. However, I understand that I didn’t exactly have the odds stacked against me. Just because I’m now a citizen doesn’t mean I won’t continue to point out the inequalities and inefficiencies in the system.

This is especially important, since this system continues to favor and fast-track people like me while reducing everybody else’s chances.

Marcus Thuillier is a second-year graduate student. He can be contacted at marcusthuillier2019@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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