In 2008, Hurricane Ike caused severe damage to much of the Houston area. It happened just weeks before the Presidential election in which Barack Obama would become the first Democratic Party President elected to office since Bill Clinton. This time is particularly vivid in my memory – I had moved to Houston the year before and was in my first year of practicing immigration law. Several of my clients had applied for citizenship, and their applications had been approved. They were eager to vote in the election, but there was one problem – they had to take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States before they actually became citizens and could vote. In Houston, we have Oath Ceremonies once per month, often with over 1500 people who have been approved to become citizens naturalizing at each ceremony. When Ike came through, it caused damage to the facility at which the oath ceremony was to take place. The Houston Chronicle published an article entitled Ike Put Their Citizenship- and Their Votes – On Hold. Then the Houston U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office found a new venue for the ceremony and it occurred in time for new citizens to register to vote in the November 2008 election. My clients and many others approved for naturalization breathed a sigh of relief.
This year, we have experienced an extremely high level of anti-immigrant sentiment from many presidential candidates. Many have expressed concern about their options potentially changing depending on who is nominated by each party and who is ultimately elected. On Tuesday night, President Obama gave his State of the Union address, and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley gave a Republican Party response, which included the statements:
I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants…We had the opportunity to do anything, to be anything as long as we were willing to work for it. My story is really not much different from millions of other Americans. Immigrants have been coming to our shores for generations to live the dream that is America. They wanted better for their children than for themselves. That remains the dream of all of us, and in this country, we have seen time and again that that dream is achievable. Today we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory. During anxious times it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws and love our traditions, should ever be unwelcome in this country.
Yet, many Republican Party candidates have voiced angry outcries against people who work hard, abide by our laws, and follow our traditions. Knowing how difficult it can be simply to become a permanent resident – not a citizen, but a step below citizenship, in which a person is not allowed to vote and can still lose their status – I believe that any permanent resident of the United States who is paying attention to our political scene should consider naturalizing now if at all possible. Becoming a citizen confers the right to vote, which in turn may help to ensure that the angriest voices do not prevail in preventing those who work hard and abide by our laws from serving as our executive. You may still have time to naturalize before this year’s election as those in 2008 sought to do.
Are you a Lawful Permanent Resident? Consider applying for U.S. citizenship now in order to become naturalized citizens (and thus eligible to vote) by the November elections.