When longtime permanent residents come to my office I sometimes ask why they haven’t applied for U.S. citizenship. The most common answer is that it’s too expensive and they can’t afford it. Some answer by asking what good it will do them. I respond by telling them that there are many good reasons to apply for citizenship such as the right to vote, the right to hold public office, and the right to apply for certain governmental positions. I then add that the best reason to become a citizen is that once you are a citizen the immigration courts and USCIS no longer have control over your life. Your right to remain in the United States is absolute. You can’t be deported!
While this may not seem like a big deal if you consider yourself a law abiding person, it is when you think about how many ways a permanent resident can slip up and be deported. All it takes is one slip-up, one mistake and your life can be forever altered.
To illustrate this point let me share with you a few details about a case I recently worked on. This person came legally to the United States at a very young age and eventually became a permanent resident. Several years ago, he was convicted for a relatively minor offense. While I can’t go into detail about it, believe me when I say it was minor! He served no time in jail and was given probation which he completed. He has no other criminal history, well maybe a speeding ticket, but we’ve all been there right? Several years later he is leading a normal life in his mid-30s not worried in the least about being deported. One day Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents show up at his apartment and detain him and he is placed in deportation proceedings. I know what you’re thinking, “how can the government deport somebody like him who has been here virtually his entire life for an offense that happened several years ago with no jail time?” Because of his particular circumstances and the arcane nature of our country’s immigration laws, this individual was not eligible to fight his deportation and he was eventually deported with no legal way to come back. Shocked? It happens all the time!
If only he had applied for citizenship at the moment he was eligible he would have been able to avoid the catastrophe that is deportation. It may be nice to talk about the right to vote and the pride that one feels after taking the oath of citizenship, but nothing beats the right to not be deported! So to all those longtime permanent residents who think they can’t afford it…can you afford not to apply for citizenship? Given today’s enforcement climate and that ICE is deporting record numbers of people each year, there is no reason to delay applying for citizenship. To those who think what is described above can’t or won’t happen to them…what have you got to lose? Answer – possibly everything you have spent a lifetime building! I always say it’s better to have something and not need it than need it and not have it. It’s no different with citizenship.