In “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, Atticus Finch said, “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
It’s called empathy; not to be confused with sympathy, which is feeling sorry. Empathy, a mental wellness ability, involves understanding based on experience, knowledge, and compassion.
Because I was born in the U.S., I have never yearned to become a citizen, and my understanding of the process is weak. I value information and I spent the week struggling through available citizenship resources. With increased knowledge, I gained empathy for people who are undertaking the daunting task of citizenship.
USCIS — the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (www.uscis.gov) was my primary source for information. The site was challenging to maneuver.
By becoming a citizen, an individual gains the ability to vote; receive social security and Medicare; work for the government; run for office; travel freely outside the U.S.
A person enters the country legally if they have a green card (Permanent Resident). They receive a social security number, pay taxes and sign up for selective services. To come without a green card is illegal entry. Citizenship (naturalization) is only available to those with a green card. A permanent resident (green card holder) can apply for citizenship after being in the U.S. for five years (three years if married to a citizen); are 18; able to read, write, and speak English; have a basic knowledge of U.S. history and government (civics); have good moral character; and demonstrate U.S. Constitution ideals.
A green card lasts 10 years, and it costs $455 filing fee and $85 biometrics fee (fingerprints, photograph, and/or digital signature) to apply for, or renew.
The form needed to apply for citizenship is the U.S. Citizenship Application Form N-400. There is a $640 filing fee and $85 for biometrics fee.
If a person is wealthy, the government program called EB-5 allows them to jump to the front of the line after paying $500,000 (one-half million or more).
I found a plethora of English and civics courses costing around $2,000, immigration attorneys from $500 to beyond $15,000. There are also free services and assistance from non-profits.
The civics oral exam involves 10 randomly selected open-ended (no multiple choice) questions chosen from a 100-question study guide. Applicants must get six of the 10 questions correct to pass the test. If they fail the test, they can retake it in 60 to 90 days. If they fail it the second time, they must start over.
Each person must also provide copies of relevant documents: Current green card; government-issued ID; passport page showing the 1-551 stamp received upon admission to the U.S.; name change documents (marriage, divorce, etc.)
A date to meet for the final test is not approved until all materials are received, and even then, it can take many months. Testing and interview for residents of northeast Colorado is at the USCIS Field office in Centennial.
I enjoyed the research and learned a lot. I attended a citizenship class and witnessed how hard people try and how dedicated they are to becoming citizens. I took several practice civic tests, and sadly admit I did not know all the answers.
The process is far from easy, but people are out there getting the help they need, studying, saving money for the fees, and completing the requirements. I think a little empathy on my part (maybe yours too) can’t hurt.
As for people here illegally, it is pretty clear; they need to go back to their home countries, apply for a green card, and come back when it is received.
I hope my efforts this week have helped you too. Please remember I’m no expert on the subject; I just read a lot and attempted to piece it together.
Closing with a quote from Maya Angelou: “I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.”
Until the next time: Live while you live.
Jennifer Goble, Ph.D., LPC, is the author of “My Clients… My Teachers: The Noble Process of Psychotherapy,” and a blogger and writer of Rural Women Stories: www.ruralwomenstories.com.
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