Hilbert Morales / EL OBSERVADOR

This conference was held at San Jose City Hall on Friday, February 5, 2016 sponsored by New America Media whose Executive Director is Ms. Sandy Close; Attended by some 75 individuals involved with immigration affairs. Most notable were official representatives of the U.S.Department of Homeland Security, Citizens & Immigration Services (CIS), Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN); Office of Immigration Services of City of San Jose and SCCo Officials. Central Labor UnionCouncil sat next to me. Several CBO/NGO (community based organizations/non-governmental organizations) had representatives present.

Ms. Sandy Close focused this NAM conference on the task of transforming the way aspiring immigrants navigated the existing path to acquire naturalized American citizen status. Then she asked each individual to introduce themselves. Then MC Close introduced the panelists (CIS, SIREN, SCCo and SJ Office of Immigrant Affairs). Each communicated in detail what their service were and their statutory basis.

One new SJ Library service was their “Citizenship Center” which provides all official forms, civics and history information including practice tests (a one-stop shop!). SIREN’s staff provides one-on-one assistance preparing required documents. One issue was that many basic documents (passports, birth certificates) took time to obtain (or explain on some official form).

It would have been productive if the agencies had also made descriptive statements about the several issues which impeded many non-citizens from proceeding with their U.S. Citizen’s Naturalization process. For example, CIS has never been adequately funded by the U.S. Congress which has the power of the purse. It is essential that registered voters know this so as to make that reality an election campaign issue.

The issue of fear and anxiety was addressed. Many aspiring non-citizens do not really know the essential civics and history of this American nation. So their justified anxiety and fear of not passing the examination and a personal interview is a reality. The CIS official clearly stated that 80% of applicants do pass the tests. The naturalization process seems to be a series of hoops through which one jumps on the path to becoming a naturalized citizen. Those who are successful are recognized and receive their citizenship certificates at a public ceremony which is attended by the prospective new citizen’s family, sponsors, friends and well-wishers.

This brought up the following issue: “How do the children who were not born in America, and therefore do not have ‘birthright citizenship’ per the U.S. Constitution. How do those children which were brought here as minors learn if they also have become citizens when their parent becomes a naturalized citizen? It turns out that if a child is a minor (below age 18), they acquire citizenship when their parent becomes a naturalized citizen. How is this documented so that each family member ends up with a document which attests to having achieved legal status including citizenship?

It is issues such as these which confuse those non-citizens who wish to become naturalized American citizens. The best way to deal with these sorts of issues is to consult with Asian Law Alliance, SIREN, CET or AACI (Asian Americans for Community Involvement) because these ethnic CBO/NGO’s usually have the expertise and know-how to address these critical personal issues in a linguistic, cultural effective legal manner.

Now many personal stories exist and should be told. At this conference two recent Naturalized American Citizens related their personal ‘citizenship journey’: Mr. Ho, a Vietnamese immigrant and Ms. Lillian Guzman, a Filipino widow who came here with her children to have a better life with access to ‘freedom and opportunity’. Mr. Ho, at the end of his story eloquently stated, “Now I have the freedom to make the personal choices needed to start my own business. I have some ideas which I want to develop to support my family.”

There you have in a nutshell why immigrants contribute so much to the innovation and creativity which small business’ have. Too many corporate executives have forgotten that their large firm was started at the kitchen table or in the family’s garage. Insight, innovation, and creativity do not happen in the corporate board room which is why large corporations consistently do ‘acquisitions and mergers’ to obtain an idea or process which enables their firm to continue to be profitable.

It is essential that the U.S. Congress, which has the ‘power of the purse’ do a better job of providing adequate funding to underwrite the essential activities of CIS needed to eliminate that backlog of citizenship applicants. Our U.S. Congress must fix the broken system by crafting a required ‘Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation which the U.S. President can sign into being the ‘Law of the Land”. During the 2016 election year 435 House members and 33 Senators are up for re-election. Voters must support those candidates who will negotiate the immigration policy reform required.