Diana B. Diaz, one of 710,000 Florida immigrants eligible for citizenship, achieved that dream Sept. 14 at a ceremony in Tampa. “This country allows you to be successful. It offers possibility,” she declared as she became one of one of our newest, and proudest, American citizens.
Like so many Italian, Irish and German immigrants before her, Diana, from Colombia, came here to pursue America’s promise of a better life.
The same is true today as it has been since our nation’s beginning: People move here to enhance their chances at freedom, success and equal opportunity. These values remain at the core of the American ideal, and they continue to inspire people who wish to come to the United States and become citizens.
More than 8.5 million immigrants are eligible nationwide, and they contribute not only economically and socially but also with new ideas and innovation. Many are looking to cement their commitment to this country by earning American citizenship.
To Diana, the advantages of citizenship include the opportunity to have a career, an education, to run for government office. She even looks forward to something many of us bemoan: the civic responsibility of jury duty, reserved for citizens.
And, firmly determined to make her voice heard on Election Day, Diana eagerly applied for her citizenship as soon as she was eligible. At her naturalization ceremony, she was struck by the emphasis on different cultures as a welcome part of America’s unique identity, and the recognition of the importance of immigrants and their hard work.
Looking around, she saw people of all ages and from all places — but with a new country in common. “We all experienced the same thing,” Diana said. “We were all united.”
“To me it’s a blessing,” she added. “I’m lucky to have had the opportunity. I made it all the way to the end of the race, and I got to cross that line.”
Citizenship does more than represent our fundamental values. It also has great economic value. A new study from the Migration Policy Institute shows that naturalized citizens may boost their income by 5 percent or more. These are extra dollars that will bolster local families and local economies.
The road from immigrant to citizen is not without barriers, however. With application fees of $680 in addition to legal fees that can reach the thousands, many immigrants cannot afford their dreams of citizenship. The cost is especially problematic for hardworking families with more than one eligible citizen.
In addition, many immigrants face the challenge of learning a new language as an adult and may face difficulty getting past long waiting lists for classes.
America was founded on the promise of freedom and opportunity, and new citizens and aspiring citizens are a defining feature of our nation’s identity. We must remove roadblocks that make the dream of citizenship unattainable.
How we treat our immigrants reflects our commitment to the values that make America great. That’s why it’s in our nation’s best interest to help immigrants successfully integrate into American society. A clearer roadmap to citizenship will help.
People come from all corners of the globe in hopes of sharing in the American Dream. We celebrate the value of citizenship for those who seek it as our ancestors did, and we honor the hundreds of thousands of new Americans who become citizens every year, including a proud new American in Florida.
“This is my home,” Diana says. “Home is where the heart is, and now it’s official.”
Ali Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum.