The term “undocumented immigrant” refers to anyone residing in any given country without legal documentation. Do you have any friends who are undocumented, or know of anyone that is? Growing up as a first-generation American, many adults I know are undocumented. They are among the other 11 million people living in the US hoping to get their US citizenship one day, yet most will have to wait decades for it. Having no clear path to US citizenship leaves immigrants at risk of deportation, separates families, and places emotional distress on everybody involved. The Federal Government should therefore pass a bill that makes it less excessive and more equitable for people to achieve US citizenship.

You might have a general idea of what the citizenship process is like, but I will explain in more detail. The American Immigration Council says that in order to qualify for US citizenship through naturalization, an individual must have had LPR status, also known as a green card, for at least five years.  Applicants for US citizenship must be at least 18 years old, demonstrate continuous residency, demonstrate “good moral character,” pass English and US history and civics exams, and pay an application fee, among other requirements. This process might sound fair, but in reality, there are many flaws. My mother has been a resident of this country for almost 20 years. However, she will have to wait to just attempt to reapply for citizenship until I am 21 years old. In addition, you can only get a green card if it’s requested by someone else. Usually, that person must be your spouse with US citizenship or your children, who must be 21 years old at the time of the request. The civics test is an oral test and the officer will ask the applicant up to 10 of the 100 questions. An applicant must answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly to pass this portion of the naturalization test.  I have looked at a practice test before, and most of the questions, I wouldn’t be able to answer.  Ironic how people that have come from another country have to learn more than what a US-born citizen knows. All this on top of how long and time-consuming the process is.

While waiting for their citizenship, many undocumented immigrants will have to miss out on benefits, such as the stimulus checks that were given out during the pandemic. Even their children born in the US miss out on the benefits. In fact, immigrants are more likely to be low-income, and according to Pew Research Center, 14.6% of immigrants live in poverty. Furthermore, higher-paying jobs don’t accept undocumented immigrants so they are forced to work longer hours and get paid less compared to a US citizen. All of this puts them at an unfair disadvantage.

In 2016, during a presidential campaign, former President Trump addressed immigrants as people who bring drugs and crime and are rapists.  That’s not true, in fact, because undocumented people have to keep “good moral character” in order to qualify for citizenship. They actually have lower crime rates than US citizens and legal immigrants, according to the Office of Justice Programs. According to a study from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented immigrants on average pay $11.6 billion in taxes every year. Without citizenship, undocumented immigrants aren’t allowed to vote, but the US is built around the idea of “No Taxation Without Representation.” Giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship would be beneficial because we would have a bigger workforce in all fields and therefore fuel the economy.

With all the problems I just mentioned, you might think that there is no possible solution. But there is. Keeping the fees reasonable is an excellent first step because with high fees, low-income immigrants are less likely to apply.  We as a community should encourage immigrants eligible to apply.  The citizenship process is not just about the immigrants. It is about the benefits and gains each time someone becomes a citizen. All levels of government should make it a priority to encourage immigrants to become Americans. Immigrants reach their full potential when they become fully integrated into American society. The government should work together to welcome immigrants and help them become US citizens.



Written By:

Margarita Munoz-Salazar

Grade 10

DC International PCS