Nearly 200 immigrants become U.S. citizens while Senators push for comprehensive immigration reform
Some Republicans and Democrats in the Senate announced an immigration reform framework today that would benefit undocumented immigrants. Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said the agreement is a major breakthrough because Americans oppose illegal immigration, but support legal immigration.
The push came as nearly 200 Tampa Bay area immigrants became American citizens during a naturalization ceremony at Eckerd College Monday morning.
People from 56 countries ranging in age from young to old spent years waiting to become U.S. citizens. Sandra Guerrero has lived and worked in the U.S. for 25-years after immigrating to Florida with her family from Mexico.
“It was easy. It was very easy and I just regret that I didn’t do it before. It was just wonderful. At my job they’re all very excited because I’m doing it. So, I’m very excited. I just want my husband to do it next.”
Guerrero and her husband came to the country with documentation. The new bipartisan plan would help other immigrants who didn’t. Democrats including president Obama have been anxious to lay out a path toward citizenship. But many Republicans have been reluctant. Today’s agreement was pushed by South Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio who is the son of Cuban immigrants. It would allow undocumented foreigners to pay a fine in order to gain probationary legal status in the U.S. During a press conference today, Arizona Senator John McCain, a Republican said what’s going on with the current immigration system is unacceptable.
In a statement, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) wrote “we simply cannot deport 11 million people” referring to the estimated number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. At the naturalization ceremony, immigration officials from the Tampa field office wouldn’t comment on the plan, but Lisa Robertson, Tampa’s branch chief for U.S. citizenship and Immigration services said the agency is already doing its best to make the citizenship process simple.
“The last few years there’s been a concerted effort to work with the officers to be the applicants at east, but it’s been basically the same process for a number of years.”
But that tends to only apply to immigrants who are living in the U.S. with proper documentation. As it stands, undocumented immigrants have to leave American soil and later re-enter the country legally. Once that’s done Robertson said,
“They also have to show that they have good moral character as well as be able to speak, read and write English. There are exemptions for medical disability with that, so there could be exemptions with that, but normally an applicant would have to be a lawful permanent resident status for either three to five years, be able to speak, read and write English, pass the civics test, as well as complete the – it’s a ten page application now.”
The civics test immigrants have to take and pass to become citizens is 100 questions long and contains questions that many joke some American-born citizens can’t even answer correctly.
“It can be very difficult because it will be to name your Senators, what does the United States government do? There’s a myriad of questions so it would be something that you would need to study to pass and someone obviously filing an application is going to study before they come.”
It’s a tricky process with lots of paperwork. Immigration officials work with applicants by re-wording questions on tests and in interviews. They also have officers available to answer questions. But many applicants still need help.
“The best thing we have to do is get a lawyer because we don’t have enough information.”
That’s Christopher Aguiler. Becoming a U.S. citizen wasn’t always in his plans. At first he came to Florida for the same reason as many travelers – Disney.
“I come second time – I met my wife and then she – we fall in love, we get married and then my daughter come and that’s why I’m here.”
The naturalization ceremony serves as immigrants’ first reward for getting through the tough process. Family members, co-workers and close friends of this newest batch of naturalized American citizens cheered as each native country were read aloud.
Giselle Rosabal, a 23-year-old USF student from Cuba stood in the front row of the crowded Eckerd College assembly hall. She choked back tears as she waved a small American flag and took her oath as a citizen.
“I have more rights right now that I’m a U.S. citizen, I can vote, I participate in a jury – I don’t know – I just feel like I have more rights and I don’t feel like a foreigner. I feel like more like a sense of belonging, like this is my country now.”
Some immigrants came to the U.S. with their families – some without – to start a new life. Kelly Kirschner, the dean of special programs at Eckerd College, told success stories about people who had found prosperity after immigrating from foreign countries – including his great, great grandfather.
“And the continuation of a land so great requires that all of our citizens – that includes all of you now, old and new, those who are born here, born abroad – that our citizens need to understand and appreciate that citizenship goes beyond taking an oath and just earning a living in this country. Citizenship requires that you participate in the constant renewal of these United States.”
Kirschner encouraged the group to take advantage of one of their new rights and motioned to a table where elections officials were registering new citizens to vote. After the ceremony, dozens of new Americans wore stickers announcing that they had registered – dozens more left with applications to return by mail. The Tampa Citizenship and Immigration services field office is holding another naturalization ceremony on Valentine’s Day for couples who are becoming U.S. citizens together.
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