This is Part 1 of the three part series, “The Road to Voting.”
Exactly one year ago, I had to a make a pretty big decision. My green card was about to expire and I could have either renewed it for another 10 years or apply for citizenship.
Renewing my green card meant I had to fill out a short application and take a new picture for the new card. It would have been much easier and cheaper to go that route. The citizenship process was a lot more complicated. First of all, the application was 21 pages long, I had to send copies of a bunch of documents, some of which I didn’t know where they were. It was hundreds of dollars more expensive and I had to take the dreaded citizenship test. I didn’t have to think hard about my decision, though. I knew the right decision was to become a citizen. I had the opportunity to do something every single immigrant dreams of doing. I wasn’t about to let this opportunity go to waste. Plus, I would be able to vote and I wouldn’t have to worry about renewing anything every 10 years.
I have never done something this important on my own. I usually get help from my family. I’m always afraid of messing something up, especially with something as important as this. They were all pretty busy at the time so I dove right in and took it one step at a time. After going through the whole process (spoiler alert: I became a citizen in November 2015), I realized the most difficult part was the application. It is a 21 page application that asks for very specific details. I was able to skip a good third of it because I don’t have children, I’m not married and I don’t have a criminal record. But the parts I did have to fill out took some researching and remembering.
I had to list every time I had been out of the country in the last five years along with every address of the places I had lived at in that time. I was worried about how specific I had to be and if I wasn’t specific enough, if my application would be rejected. For example, I couldn’t remember or couldn’t find the address of the dorm I lived in while in college. I wrote down the name of the dorm and Western’s generic address, and hoped for the best. As far as the times I had traveled outside of the country, I was lucky enough to find the specific dates because I kept almost every plane ticket and had my passport to look back on.
I sent off the application, copies of the documents they needed and a hefty check for the application. After waiting anxiously for a few weeks to see if my application was accepted, I got a letter at few weeks later, at the end of March. It said my application was accepted and I had an appointment set up in April to get my fingerprints taken.
Here’s the thing about the government… they don’t mess around. For my fingerprint appointment I needed to bring the appointment letter and be there 15 minutes early. And in fine print on the bottom of the letter it said if I didn’t show up to my appointment or reschedule, my appointment would be considered abandoned and I would have to reapply and pay the fee again.
I stayed with my friends the night before my appointment, since their house was closer to the immigration office than mine. So, it was my luck that I locked my keys inside their house when I was on my way to the appointment.
I instantly panicked. There was no number on the letter to call, so I assumed I wasn’t going to make it and all was lost. Thankfully, my roommate was there to take care of the situation since I was a mess. We called an Uber and picked up the keys from my friend where she was working and I got to my appointment with more than enough time. (Even though I was out $60 for the 10 minute Uber ride because I was in such panic that I accidentally got an Escalade…)
After getting my fingerprints taken, I was given a study guide. It said I had to know the answers to the 100 questions provided, I would be asked 10 of the 100 questions and had to get six correct. There was also a written and verbal part of the test where I had to read and write three sentences. I didn’t know when my test was, all I knew was I was going to get a notice at some point.
After months and months… and months of checking my status, I finally got a notice in September, that my test was going to be in October. I got another notice a few weeks later telling me my test was going to be rescheduled for Nov. 9.
The big day finally arrived. I was more nervous than I had ever been in my entire life. I didn’t know anyone who had taken the citizenship test so I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
The whole test (including 15 minutes of waiting) took less than 45 minutes. That’s it. I was asked six questions, not 10 like the study guide said (they did have back-up questions if I got one wrong), I had to read one question out loud and write down the answer to that question. That’s it. Six questions, one written question and one verbal question. And, of all of the questions I could have gotten, I’m pretty sure I got the easiest ones.
The final step was the easiest, I had to take my oath and receive my citizenship certificate. Sitting in the ceremony along with 70 other soon-to-be citizens was one of the biggest moments in my life. After 21 years of being in this country that gave my family such wonderful opportunities, I was finally a citizen. And, I did it all on my own. Of course I have my parents to thank for getting me this far, but I physically filled out the application and went through the process all on my own.
Many people I have told my story to have asked why there are so many hoops to jump through when the test is so easy. My theory about the process is that it’s like college. Most employers don’t necessarily look for people with specific college degrees (unless it is very critical to the job). Employers want to have someone committed enough to get a degree, which takes a lot of time and dedication. The same thing goes for citizenship, the government wants to see if someone is committed enough to spend the money and time on getting citizenship. That’s the kind of person they want to make a citizen, someone who is dedicated enough to show they want it.
The next step of my citizenship adventure is… voting. And how it all works.