Immigration naturalization Essay

            Immigration has become a divisive debate these past few years and shows no sign of slowing down. In 1907, over 1.25 million immigrants passed through New York City legally.[1] The process took roughly two hours from start to finish. Now, for those who wish to enter America legally and become either a permanent resident or a naturalized citizen, the process takes months and sometimes even years on a waiting list or even if one has married a citizen of the country, the process still will take months or years, cost thousands of dollars in necessary paperwork and even then, there is still no guarantee that individual will allowed to legally stay in this country. It is important that anyone wanting to come to America to live and to try to make a better life for themselves and their families do so in a lawful way. There are advantages that come from an individual wanting to become a naturalized citizen. He is free from deportation, has the pride that comes from knowing that he entered the United States legally, is free to work where he chooses and cannot be seen by others as contributing to the problem of illegal immigration has in this country. He is now part of the solution and is an important aspect of what makes this country so great: the freedom and opportunity that it gives to anyone who has the dream and work ethic to make sure his goals come to fruition. These are the reasons why an individual seeks to become a naturalized citizen of America.

The American immigration policy has seen years within its history when the requirements were very loose and other times in which they were very restrictive. From the start of this country until the 1830s, there were relatively no restrictions that the government placed on the flow of immigrants coming to America.[2] There were only a few and non binding measures that occurred as a result of the influx of Irish immigrants which came through New York from 1845-1849 and which caw almost a million refugees in total come to America for a better life and to escape the famine conditions that existed in their homeland.[3] It would not be until the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act did the country see any real crack down on the number of immigrants that came to the country. The Act prohibited certain labors from migrating to the United States as well as levied a head tax of fifty cents on every immigrant coming to the country. Also, the importation of the developmentally disabled, those expected of being insane and convicts trying to escape capture in their former home. This law and the enforcement of it caused the formation of a federal government to oversee the enforcement of this law.

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            It was also around this time that Ellis Island was built to house the majority of immigrants that were coming to America. New York’s old facility, Castle Garden, built in the 1850’s to process immigrants, soon became too small and Ellis Island, would be given the task. Ellis Island housed inspection facilities, cafeterias, hospitals, administrative offices, railroad ticket offices as well as a welcome area for the immigrant’s families, already living in America and waiting for their loved one’s arrival. Ellis Island, for decades, was the busiest port for human cargo in the country. The staff at Ellis Island, which numbered only 180 in 1893, was given the task of keeping out “undesirables” and being able to offer the fastest and most efficient way in which to process these new immigrants.[4] A staff worker had less than a minute to decide if the new applicant had any number of diseases and if suspected, including insanity, a letter or number corresponding to that disease was placed on their jacket and were then instructed on where to go. The entire process took less than two hours and less than one in fifty were rejected and sent back. In 1907 alone, more than 1.25 million immigrants, mostly from Eastern Europe came through Ellis Island on their way to become legal and productive citizens in America.

            It was this high influx of immigrants that year that Congress sought to strengthen the national immigration policy with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1907. A Presidential Commission was designed to study the large number of immigrants coming to America, especially from Southern and Eastern Europe. It was this commission as well as assort of xenophobia which helped passage of the 1917 Immigration Act.[5] Within this act, new immigrants were now required to be able to read and write, not in English but in their native tongue as well as being checked for the deadly influenza disease which killed millions all across Europe at that time. The number of requirements continued in 1918 with the passage of a Presidential Passport Law which stated that passports must be required when leaving and entering the country. This greatly increased the paperwork and strain for an already stressed immigrant system.

            After World War One, massive immigration continued and Congress responded with a national quota system. This was seen in the 1921 and 1924 Immigration bills.[6] This law limited the number of immigrants coming from each nationality. Each quota was based upon the desirability of that country’s workers as well as the representation of the United States census figures. Also, immigrants could only hope to enter the country that held a valid visa. These higher requirements, led to the increase of illegal immigration as individuals who could not or would not adhere to these new rules, sought to sneak in the country. America responded with the formation of border patrol police which then as well as now, were responsible for patrolling the southern border with Mexico as well as aiding in the needed assistance at all of America’s ports.

            Immigration remained relatively low following World War II. Seasonal work was being farmed in from Mexico under an agreement that the United States had with Mexico. It was also after the war, in 1953, the Refugee Relief Act was passed. This allowed for the admission of many refugees unable to come to the United States under regular immigration laws but who wished to escape oppressive rule under the Cold War as well as other oppressive regimes across the world. The Hungarian Relief Act of 1956 and the Refugee Escapee Act of Adjustment Program of the 1960’s was designed for the very same purpose.

            The Immigration and Naturalization Service’s function and responsibilities changed under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. This act charged businesses with fines and threats of punishment for knowingly hiring illegal or undocumented workers as well as deportation of those found to be in America legally. This law, signed under President Regan, also allowed a certain number of aliens living in America legally, legal residence. In 1986, the number of illegal immigrants in America was just over three million.[7] In the twenty years since Amnesty was given, that number has ballooned to over twelve million and some estimate that number could be as high as twenty million illegal aliens. The history of immigration in America has had a bumpy ride. Always at the response of a new immigration pattern seen in the United States, a new law is passed or repealed.  The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was later repealed in 1942 in order to appease China, America’s ally during the war. Yet, it was this same year that roughly 200,000 Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps, many for the duration of the war.[8] So it has been seen that the United States has no clear policy on illegal and legal immigration and it is likely that more and different immigration laws will be put on the books this century as well. It is yet to be seen if any of them will have the lasting power needed to provide a safe and positive future for all of America’s citizens.

The process that one must endure to become a citizen first starts with the application for permanent residence. USCIS is the organization that one must go through in order to be able to reach that next step of the naturalization process. And the process is beyond frustrating and annoying for all people who expect their papers to be processed in a timely and efficient manner. The experiences of Marie Byrne, an immigrant from Ireland who married a citizen born in America, is typical of the experiences that foreign nationalists discover when trying to deal with an inefficient and weak aspect of the federal government. USCIS is not going to make the process easy and the experience of Kate Alinoui, an immigrant from Nigeria also experienced a great deal of frustration in this process. Both women endured the process that comes with earning permanent residence and then becoming naturalized because they had to and had no other choice.

First, the process takes months if not years. For people who do not have the advantage of being able to marry a citizen, the process may take years. John Alexander, an interviewer for INS in Fairfax, Washington, commented on the fact that some individuals from The Philippines have been waiting for entrance into the country for the past seven years.[9] There is often times a waiting list for certain countries that leave the applicant without the hope of every being able to enter the country legally. Also, there is no shortage of paperwork and vaccinations that one must submit to in order to be considered for naturalization. The fees of the documents can run into the thousands of dollars, without the help of a lawyer whose fees can run an additional $8,000. A person wanting to become a naturalized citizen has to really want to stay in this country within the parameters of the law. Each applicant, has their own stories of how USCIS lost their paperwork or how the month long delays seemed to run concurrent with each other. USCIS works with such an alarming degree of inaptitude that it almost seems as though it is being done on purpose. Nobody who has not tried to become a citizen within the law or has known somebody who has, can really appreciate the frustrations that come from another government program that is as inefficient as USCIS and INS really are. It would surprise anyone who witnessed this for their very first time.  For this paper, four immigrants who came to this country legally and either finished the naturalization process of am in the middle of it at the time of their interview, each could share their experiences in which simple and mundane tasks by INS, turned into months of delay and added expenses. For the ones with the strong enough will, this only increases the resolve and dedication that these individuals had to become naturalized. For the people who come to this country legally, the odds are actually stacked against them as it may seem easier to do what millions of others have done in coming to this country illegally. But the naturalization process is a trial by fire and picks out the individuals that are desperate to make a better life for themselves and their family. For those select few, the reasons why one should become naturalized are self evident.

This paper can also serve as an indicator for immigrants on what they can expect when they start the year long and thousands of dollars process of becoming a naturalized citizen or even a permanent resident. It will not be an easy transformation and one must be ready for the long haul as well as receiving paperwork from the government with instructions that contradict their previous instructions as well as rules that disallow any information regarding the status of one’s paperwork, from being explained over the phone. Marie Byrne, had to drive 400 miles to the middle of downtown Chicago in order to be told why her paperwork has been stagnant for the past five months since that information is not allowed to be shared in any other manner. And when Ms. Byrne, who had to take off work to make the trip, was told the reason, which incidentally turned out to be an error on the part of USCIS, she was helpless to do anything else but ask USCIS to correct the problem and make the 200 miles trip back to her home. Also, Ms. Byrne had moved from Washington D.C. to Central Illinois. She had resided there for eight months and was receiving all of immigration documents to her Illinois address. But then when it came time to have her interview for immigration, she was informed that she could only come to Washington D.C. and if she chose to reschedule, as it stated on her interview ticket, the entire process could start over, meaning that all paperwork and application fees would have to be repaid.

Kate Alinoui, had to make a round trip of 300 miles to be told why her paperwork was stalled. She was six months pregnant and was suffering from an inflamed kidney. She told the representative of USCIS this and was met with an angry threat of deportation if she did not fulfill her scheduled meeting later that day. Kate went to the interview and then had to spend the next three days in the hospital to recover from the trip. And there is not doubt that every person, wanting to become a citizen has similar stories to tell. These stories are all true and have been verified but they are not surprising. What is surprising that anyone would submit themselves to such a high degree of disrespect and apathy concerning their situation from USCIS. It is a wonder at all that anyone follows the law when immigrating to this country. USCIS will not make the process easy at all but if one is unfazed by this and will continue to do the right thing, their effort will be rewarded in the end. For 1-2 years of hell, an immigrant can then be free to experience decades of heaven and in hindsight, the effort will have been worth it.

 The inner workings of the USCIS resemble the complete ineffectiveness of the enforcement of America’s immigration laws. For Marie Byrne, a long list of paperwork needed to be completed if she was to hope for her status to be changed to permanent residence before her travel visa ran out. She had a strong desire to become a citizen legally, despite her co workers and friends telling her that such efforts were unnecessary. First, the petitioner, her husband, needed to prove that his income alone was above that of the poverty line as well as securing letters of recommendation from his bank, his employers as well as three unrelated references. Forms along with fees that totaled up to $950 needed to be submitted as well as physical examinations and vaccinations.[10] An applicant is issued an employment card as well as travel document which allows the applicant to enter and exit the country if needed without being detained at the airport. If the papers are in order and the document fees have been received, then an interview is set up with a member of INS along with the applicant and their petitioner, which in the case of Marie Byrne, an immigrant from Ireland, was her husband. The purpose of the interview is to see if the marriage is legit. At times, an immigrant will get a citizen to marry them in order to obtain citizenship while having no real intention of staying married for love. After the marriage has occurred, INS usually requests an interview with the applicant and petitioner, not directly after the wedding but 1-2 years after the fact in order to help establish that said marriage is legit. The applicant and petitioner will be asked a series of personal and precise questions concerning the other. This will include, how they met, the names and birthdates of their relatives as well as very detailed and personal information that only one’s spouse, living with them for the past two years would know. If the interview goes well and additional documentation, such as bank records and bills showing that the two are indeed living together, then a formal petition for citizenship is allowed to begin.

Now, the first step is called the Declaration of Intent. The applicant, in a court setting, is expected to renounce allegiance to any other foreign country and to renounce any title of order given to them from another country. At least two years after making this formal declaration could a petitioner petition the court for admission to citizenship. The second step is the formal declaration for a petition, which if the applicant is deemed worthy, is given their naturalization certificate. However, this does not come without additional requirements. A citizen test which asks important questions within US History are asked in the belief that this makes one a better citizen by knowing something about the country in which they are going to reside.

Why should one want to go through the naturalization process? It seems unlikely that anyone would want to but rather out of a sense of obligation and respect for the law, one would force themselves to ensure all of the annoyances and financial burdens that it takes in order for one to become a citizen. In being a citizen, the individual is able to take part in the democratic process by voting. This sacred right, usually ignored by most Americans who have lived here their entire life, is still open to the citizen if he should chose to partake in this most important aspect of a democratic society. When one is able to vote legally, they have a say in the way in which their county, state and country are to be run and by what members of that society, they feel, are up to the tasks and responsibilities such a position entails. Also, in being a citizen, the individual knows that they can vote legally and does not need to worry about an election official checking to see if his identification is correct and if not, possibly facing criminal charges for voter fraud. A clear consciousness is one of the best advantages that one has from going through the naturalization process.

            Also, another advantage in one taking the time to complete the naturalization process, the individual is free from worry concerning deportation in the unlikely but scary event that the US government decides to enforce its immigration laws. Due to the backlash that the government has been receiving over illegal immigration, there has been a slight increase in the number of businesses that are being raided in order to decrease the number of illegal hires that are taking place. Businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants are now faced with stiffer fines as the climate in Washington is not as friendly as they once were and there is now more added pressure to crack down on illegal immigration. Businesses that are ignorant of the legal status of their workers are still faced with a sudden and sometimes drastic decrease on their work force. A Tyson Foods production plant in South Caroline in December 2006, was discovered to be employing over three hundred illegal workers and due to their sudden and sizable drop in their employees who were arrested and now facing extradition charges, are no longer a part of Tyson’s work force, this forcing the plant to close its doors for a time as well as receiving a mountain of bad press all across the country. [11]

            Another advantage in not only the individual following America’s immigration laws but in America enforcing the laws is the reduction of crime that follows such enforcement. The Los Angeles Times, never known for its conservative views, in a recent article, estimated that as many as 28% of the state’s violent and drug related crimes are committed by illegal aliens and that an even higher number of gangs members are illegal aliens as well.[12] Many of these immigrants are from Mexico or Latin American countries. And with this influx of criminals, comes more crime in America. Just last month, an Iraq ware veteran as well as a police officer, were shot and killed by illegal aliens, caught in a robbery and routine traffic stop.

            Also, after September 11, it is imperative for the country to actually enforce their immigration laws. Many of the hijackers were here illegally, having obtained drivers’ licenses in an illegal manner and were even allowed to train to fly planes at one flight school. This should cause an outrage for anyone, regardless of their political leanings, who wish to keep this country safe. Detractors of the enforcement of immigration laws say that the vast majority of immigrants coming to this country, although illegally, are hard working and law abiding citizens. This is of course true. However, as The Los Angeles Times points outs, there are also thousands of illegal immigrants that come to America who have no intention of becoming peaceful, productive and law abiding citizens of the community. It is unlikely that an illegal immigrant coming from Mexico will help to produce another 9/11 but the regret that may come after another similar attack, (since every expert warns when a new attack will take place, not if) will not take back the lives of those lost due to a faulty immigration policy which the government makes not attempt to enforce.

            Another reason that the immigrant needs to follow and respect the naturalization process is for the advancement of their own self and that of their families. An individual who comes to this country legally has nothing to fear from the law but also, increases the chances that he will receive a higher paying job. Individuals that cannot speak English and who lack the necessary paperwork to receive all but the most menial jobs while under questionable circumstances, are not give much hope in every arising above such circumstances. A person that comes to the country within the perimeters of the law is more likely to encourage his children to respect and obey the law as well as being able to use their new skills and opportunity to their advantage. It is not only respect and adherence to the law but also assimilation that helps to give the individual the best chances possible to better themselves and the condition of their family. A person that does that and works hard to stay off welfare and makes responsible choices to contribute to America has multiple advantages. Most importantly, the individual knows that he did not break the law, has nothing to fear and is now due all of the rights and privileges that come from full American citizenship.

            The political climate in America today is bound to change with every election. The Republicans in the House of Representatives are calling for strict enforcement of the immigration laws. Many of them consider illegal immigrants to be guilty of committing a felony and that the only reasonable solution is deportation. The deportation of twelve million illegal immigrants is not likely to happen any times soon. But so resistant are these members of Congress to propose anything that sounds remotely like amnesty, that the calls for deportation are heard loud and clear from that segment of Congress. A more reasonable approach is that of Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy which propose a guest worker program and along wit it, other laws which aid in the legal immigration of future immigrants as well.[13] People who are in this country illegally are allowed to stay in the country if they apply for citizenship between seven to ten years in order to then receive citizenship. This bill is gaining some steam but will never be voted upon by those members of the House who are would regard that as a form of amnesty.

            Congress, concentrated in the war in Iraq and in being careful not to disillusion their base, are less likely to come to any conclusive agreement in the near future. A 700 mile fence along hot spots of the US/Mexico border was voted on and passed but that occurred while the Republicans had control of both the House and the Senate. While Democrats now control both houses, the actual production of such a fence, a mammoth production in its own right, is even less likely to come to fruition. President Bush, in his State of the Union address last month, proposed a guest worker program that gave neither amnesty, nor deportation to the twelve million immigrants in this county.[14] An individual would be allowed to come to America if they had a job and was willing to work and obey the laws. After a period of time, (this amount of time is still under dispute) the worker could apply for citizenship. Any criminal charges would negate this offer and the offender could be immediately sent home. This too is unlikely to pass any time soon due to the disagreement that is now in Congress. Democrats do not want to appear as though they are in favor of amnesty but are careful not to push for anything tougher than a mild guest worker program in the fear of alienating their large Hispanic voting base see an attack on illegal immigration as an attack on themselves. The Mexican government, unable or unwilling to attempt to provide for their citizens, encourages nationalists to come to America buy any means at their exposal. It seems unlikely that anyone has a solution to the problem that will please everybody.  It a complex issue but this “do-nothing” Congress, as it is being labeled by the press, will not disappoint the citizens of America who expect that the lackluster performance on this issue over the past twenty years, will continue into the next generation.


Interview with John Alexander February 25, 2007

Interview with Kate Alinoui. February 26, 2007

Burns, Ric. The History of New York.  Boston: PBS Video. 1999

Interview with Marie Byrne. February 24, 2007

Commanger, Henry Steele. Documents of American History. New York: Century Pub. 1947

Dobbs, Lou.  Moneyline. CNN Productions. February 22, 2007

Gonzalez, Terry. Statistics on Immigration. The Los Angeles Times. A7.

Pearson, Don.  Raid on Tyson Plant Yields Illegal Immigrants.  Chicago Tribune, December 28, 2006.  Section 1 p. 8

Test of President Bush’ State of the Union Speech. Chicago Tribune. Section 1 p. 3 January 24, 2007

[1] Burns, Ric. The History of New York.  Boston: PBS Video. 1999

[2] Burns, Ric. The History of New York.  Boston: PBS Video. 1999

[3] Commanger, Henry Steele. Documents of American History. New York: Century Pub. 1947

[4]Burns, Ric. The History of New York.  Boston: PBS Video. 1999

[5] Commanger, Henry Steele. Documents of American History. New York: Century Pub. 1947

[6] Commanger, Henry Steele. Documents of American History. New York: Century Pub. 1947

[7] Gonzalez, Terry. Statistics on Immigration. The Los Angeles Times. A7.

[8] Commanger, Henry Steele. Documents of American History. New York: Century Pub. 1947

[9] Interview with John Alexander February 25, 2007
[10] Interview with Marie Byrne. February 24, 2007

[11] Pearson, Don.  Raid on Tyson Plant Yields Illegal Immigrants.  Chicago Tribune, December 28, 2006.  Section 1 p. 8

[12] Gonzalez, Terry. Statistics on Immigration. The Los Angeles Times. A7.

[13] Test of President Bush’ State of the Union Speech. Chicago Tribune. Section 1 p. 3 January 24, 2007

[14] Gonzalez, Terry. Statistics on Immigration. The Los Angeles Times. A7.