I’ve spent 16 years of my life trying to become a United States citizen.
I spent those years as a visa holder, as a permanent resident (green card) holder, and as an applicant for Naturalization. Finally, in 2022, I am proudly an American citizen. I am a proud Missourian. I am part of the United States of America.
My family and I have waited for a decade and a half to be able to say, “I’m an American,” or “Soy Americano.” When my mom received her U.S. citizenship, she couldn’t stop saying that she was American to us while our applications were still being processed. The joy and relief that came over my mom, my dad, and me when we received our Interview and Ceremony letters dissipated years of anxiousness. It indicated the end of our American imposter syndrome. The moment we had our hands on the red, white, and blue piece of paper that welcomed us to the citizenry, no one would be able to call us less than true Americans. No one could tell us to go back to our country because we were already here.
However, the financial and personal costs that we endured were a sacrifice for us all. There wasn’t any way around them, yet many other immigrants who feel more American than their own native nationality will never have the chance to be American as a result of these fees. Applications for work visas are $190. Applications for green cards are between $1,200 and $1,750, not including the mandatory medical examination needed for the application. Applications for Naturalization are $725.
For a majority of Harvard students, these costs are inconsequential. But compared to the median immigrant household income, these fees are steep costs that may require months or years of savings, especially for those with dependents.
It does not become a matter of who wants to become American, but a matter of who can afford to become American.
The ability to afford citizenship, whether it be in the form of time or money, is what a majority of the US population — including Harvard students — are ignorant of.
To begin: Having permission to work in the United States as a foreign national — in other words, obtaining the work visa — is tied to your employer. This means if your job is high paying and you have no need to transfer jobs, then you can endure the long, financially intensive process of working towards citizenship.
However, for many immigrants, having permission to work tied to your employer means no ability to transfer jobs with better opportunities and being forced to stay at your current job. With many immigrants already having low-paying jobs, the costs of citizenship begin to accumulate, meaning fewer low-income immigrants who want to be citizens can afford it.
As of 2021, 26 percent of the US population are immigrants, with the number growing every year. It is imperative for future American leaders and the population to comprehend that we do not become citizens overnight. We don’t become green card holders by chance. Visas are not handed out for free.
Ask Naturalized citizens if the arduous process was worth it, and they’ll say yes. Despite the struggles, being a US citizen is a proud achievement. It welcomes me to the greatest country in the world. It welcomes me to the freedom to openly criticize the US — a freedom that is not promised everywhere. And it completes my American dream: one where a Mexican child who always heard of the wonders of America will be able to fully relish and participate in it.
I believe every immigrant wanting to become an American citizen should be able to do so free of costs and personal burdens, and I believe that as Americans, we should change our immigration practices to facilitate the process.
Being American is one of my proudest accomplishments, and those who share the same passion and vigor to become part of the citizenry should only be limited by their love for their new nation — not by the depths of their pockets.
Markus I. Anzaldua-Campos ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Neuroscience concentrator in Kirkland House.