Editors note: The Massasoit Tribune, in light of the election of Donald Trump and the fact that our community is a diverse one, will be running a series of pieces documenting the lives of immigrants, refugees, and issues surrounding immigration over the coming months.
JESILINA GONCALVES, Contributor–
It was her first time on a plane.
Anna Santos, a native to the Fogo island of Cape Verde, sat trembling in the arms of her older cousin. At only nine years old, Santos was en route to the United States, traveling under a temporary student Visa.
“I was afraid,” she says. “I was leaving my mom, my dad – my whole country behind.”
Unknowingly and unwittingly, Santos would later become one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants that reside in the United States.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates that over seventy percent of these undocumented immigrants are birthed in Mexico and Central America. Only thirteen percent are born in Asia and the remaining are from the Caribbean, South America, Africa, Canada, Oceania, and Europe.
According to Homeland Security statistics, most of these unauthorized residents either entered the United States without inspection, or were admitted temporarily and stayed past the date they were required to leave.
Anna Santos, born on the coastal islands of Cape Verde, falls into the latter category.
Often, these undocumented immigrants refuse to pursue citizenship due to the timelessness and the difficulties that come with the process.
It’s possible for an immigrant to gain temporary or permanent residency in the United States through family, through an employment opportunity, or through refugee or asylum status. But the restrictions and limitations on these things can make citizenship difficult for unauthorized immigrants.
Citizenship through family, for instance, is limited to spouses, parents, siblings, and children.
To qualify, foreigners must meet age and eligibility requirements, and the family member pursuing the citizenship must show proof of a stable income and must commit to supporting the applicants.
An unauthorized immigrant can also obtain citizenship through employment opportunities in the U.S. It’s good practice, in theory, but it comes with another set of often insurmountable obstacles; most immigrants don’t qualify because they require a college education and mandatory work experience.
To obtain citizenship through refugee or asylum status, individuals must prove that they are fearful of oppression in their country and must meet various eligibility requirements.
They also risk the chance of not being admitted for immigration because of an annual limit placed on refugees.
Despite the hardships of the immigration process, the number of people who want to immigrate to the United States are drastically higher than the amount the government can process each year. This results in an overabundance of immigrants, seeking proper and legal channels, who get stuck in line. Those on the waiting list are often there for years.
The Diversity Immigrant Visa program is a second option for individuals who do not qualify for citizenship through family, through employment opportunities, or through refugee or asylum statuses.
This program provides green cards to countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. This is ultimately favorable to developed nations and countries without a major flow of refugees out of the country.
Countries with high rates of immigration, such as Mexico, do not qualify for this program.
But the obstacles don’t end there. To be eligible for this program, applicants must meet a set of high-standard requirements, including education and work experience. And since the program is very popular, the chances of receiving a green card are unlikely.
But Anna Santos beat the odds. When she was 21, she undertook the long and tedious process of naturalization.
“It was hard for me, but I did it,” she says.
After taking an Oath of Allegiance to the United States–a mandatory final step in the process–she officially obtained her citizenship.
“I was so happy,” she says. “For once, I felt proud of myself and my country.”