On this very day in back in 1787 the Constitutional Congress met for one last time to sign the Constitution of this great nation after working tirelessly to create and perfect it. (Spoiler alert: it still needs work. I’m looking at you, 2nd Amendment). Though the Constitution did not go into effect until two years later, September 17 is still a day to commemorate the completion of a document that grants us the rights that make us Americans.
One of those very important rights is the Citizenship Clause in Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Citizenship Day, also celebrated on September 17, celebrates being a citizen of the United States of America, aka the greatest country on earth.
Citizenship Day is special for all citizens, both native born and naturalized citizens. It’s a day to reflect the rights, freedoms, and privileges afforded us as citizens of the United States of America. Truth be told, I just learned about this holiday, but I am so here for it.
I was born in Peru and became a naturalized citizen through my mother. Then, once I turned eighteen I apparently was no longer a citizen because I was supposed to petition for that on my own once I became an adult (sidebar: I’m still trying to figure out how to be an adult, but that’s a conversation for another day). I learned about this while applying for financial aid during my sophomore year of college.
My passport said I was a citizen but my birth certificate said I was not, so I thought it was just a matter of clearing up the confusion by submitting extra documents. Oh, how wrong I was. The financial aid counselor looked me straight in the eye and said, “No, Sally. We have those documents. You’re definitely not a citizen.” HAD I BEEN LIVING A LIE?! Fortunately all I had to do was talk with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office to obtain my Certification of Citizenship.
So, that’s the story of how I lost my citizenship for almost a year. Before this incident I hadn’t given much thought to what a blessing my citizenship was. So in honor of Citizenship Day, here are a couple of benefits that I am most grateful for.
I’ve been a student for a really long time now and let me tell you, it is not cheap. College was my first introduction to financial aid and it was a huge blessing. Non-citizens are ineligible for financial aid, which means that millions of international and undocumented students have to find other ways to fund their education. Students may turn to private loans for graduate programs and undocumented college students may qualify for DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors) Act financial assistance.
As a citizen, I never worried about where my tuition money was coming from because I knew the government was a resource I could rely on. For so long I failed to recognize that the only reason I could count on financial aid from the government was because it is a privilege only granted to citizens. Without financial aid I would not have had the liberty to attend my top choice college because I probably would have chosen a more affordable school to attend instead of the school of my dreams. And forget about law school without financial aid. There is no way I could possible pay for law school out of pocket. Though, if it were possible to sell my soul in exchange for financial aid money for law school I’m sure I would have seriously considered it.
Listen, voting is super important. It’s how we spark change and elect leaders. Local elections, for example, help shape the characteristics of our own communities to best reflect the people that live in it.
As a woman of color I take voting very seriously because at one point in our country’s history, this right was not afforded to people like me (shout out to my girl Susan B. Anthony for fighting the good fight). Specifically, I’ll use my vote to elect people in Congress and other government position who will actually serve my interests on issues like, oh I don’t know, laws that attempt to regulate my uterus for example.
It makes sense that only citizens can vote because we want a nation that is governed by the people for the people. Imagine having an opinion on an issue but no one wants to hear it because it won’t count in the long run. That’s what it must be like to not have the right to vote as a noncitizen. We are living in critical times right now. With our votes we can either elect an overqualified and experienced candidate or a rotten bag of Cheetos that wants to destroy our great nation. That decision is in our power as citizens. Did you know that more thousands of immigrants, especially Latin@ immigrants, are racing to become citizens just so they can vote against Donald Trump in the 2016 election? ¡Arriba mi gente!
TRAVELING WITH PEACE OF MIND
According to the USCIS, a United States passport lets you get assistance from the U.S. government when you are traveling oversees. Remember that guy from the University of Virginia who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea for trying to steal a propaganda banner from his hotel? The U.S. government stepped in demanding his release in great part due to the fact that since the student was a citizen, it was the nation’s duty to help in their full capacity.
I frequently travel to Peru and plan on traveling to other parts of the world later on in life. Though I don’t intend to ever steal propaganda in a foreign country, it’s great to know that if I ever were to get into serious trouble while I was abroad I could still count on our government to help me out.
BECOMING AN ELECTED OFFICIAL
There’s a saying that goes, “You cannot be what you cannot see” and I have taken that phrase to heart on many occasions. When I think about my legal career, I often toy with the idea of possibly running for office in Congress because I don’t see myself represented in the people we currently have in those seats. Alternatively, I’ve always wanted to become a judge in California because, again, I don’t see myself represented as much as I’d like. Both of these jobs are elected positions that require U.S. citizenship as one of its many perquisites. At this point I am unsure of where my legal career will take me, but one thing is for sure: I’m just another immigrant coming up from the bottom and thanks to my American citizenship, my windows of opportunity are wide open.
To all our citizens: Happy Citizenship Day! And to all those taking active steps to become citizens: I see you and I am rooting for you.