Becoming a U.S. citizen is a lengthy and complicated process that includes all kinds of forms, interviews, tests, and oaths.
But that didn’t stop this 101-year-old woman from becoming a proud, naturalized American citizen on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015.
Her name is Juana Hernández.
Eight years ago, at her daughter’s urging, she moved to Miami from Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
So what made her want to go all out for citizenship now?
She wanted to show her two sons back in Honduras how it’s done.
“I want them to come,” she told the Miami Herald. (It’s a lot easier to get an immigration visa if you’re related to a U.S. citizen.)
The immigration process is notoriously long, difficult, and expensive.
Juana had to fill out the 21-page application for naturalization. She was also facing the challenge of a roughly $600 application filing fee. Luckily, a local organization helped her fill out the application (folks can actually face long delays or even deportation over a single mistake in the application). She was also able to apply for a fee waiver.
Many immigrants struggle to go through the overly-complicated system. It’s difficult, confusing, expensive, and in many cases, it’s a dead end. It’s precisely because so many undocumented immigrants find themselves without a path to citizenship that President Obama has been pushing for reform.
“We didn’t raise the Statue of Liberty with her back to the world, we did it with her light shining as a beacon to the world,” President Obama said during a Nov. 21, 2014 speech, urging comprehensive reform:
“And whether we were Irish or Italians or Germans crossing the Atlantic, or Japanese or Chinese crossing the Pacific; whether we crossed the Rio Grande or flew here from all over the world — generations of immigrants have made this country into what it is. It’s what makes us special.”
And while there’s been a big push for immigration reform for a while, it still seems to be a ways off.
Last year, the Senate passed a bill that would have helped streamline the immigration process. Unfortunately, the bill never came up for a vote in the House of Representatives. President Obama has been able to take some action through executive order, but it’s been more focused on delaying deportations rather than really fixing the system.
One of the most broken parts of the system? How visas are granted.
Right now, the U.S. government caps the number of immigration visas granted per year. It also specifically caps how many immigrants can come to the U.S. from any given country.
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to cap immigration visas by country. Think about it: Depending on the situation and what’s going on in the world, those numbers need to be able to shift. We have a similar cap system in place for refugees, and that’s what’s led to the bottleneck for Syrian refugees. Here’s what the Department of Homeland Security has to say:
“In general, family-sponsored preference visas are limited to 226,000 visas per year and employment-based preference visas are limited to 140,000 visas per year. … In addition, there are limits to the percentage of visas that can be allotted based on an immigrant’s country of chargeability (usually the country of birth). When the demand is higher than the supply of visas for a given year in any given category or country, a visa queue (waiting list or backlog) forms.”
If we were to give immigrants a clearer path to citizenship, we wouldn’t have to worry about anyone being undocumented.
It’s reasonable to think that most undocumented immigrants would like to become full citizens if given the opportunity.
But a system that threatens to deport folks who want to become citizens when they come forward? That’s a broken system.
So let’s hope Congress takes up immigration reform soon. It’d be a great 102nd birthday present for Juana.