The ‘Invisible Wall’ is creating real barriers for local residents

The ‘Invisible Wall’ is creating real barriers for local residents

Processing wait times for U.S citizenship are getting longer

Recent headlines have focused on the numerous attacks on asylum seekers and refugees, program terminations for certain immigrant groups, and a call to build one large wall at the southern border of the United States and Mexico. Meanwhile, the administration is quietly building an ‘Invisible Wall’ (also known as the ‘Second Wall’) between the dream of U.S citizenship and eligible residents.

As the wait to become a U.S. citizen lengthens substantially, many longtime community members are now facing an ‘Invisible Wall’ when applying for citizenship. USCIS application backlogs and processing delays have increased dramatically over the past two years. Nebraska service providers report wait times increasing from 6 months in 2016 to now well over a year – potentially barring many from voting in the 2020 elections. These wait times are simply for the final application for citizenship for eligible applicants, not counting the many years- or decades-long processes for earlier stages of permanent residency or “green cards.”

The New York Times recently featured the story of Jose Silva, whose application for citizenship has taken more than a year and a half to complete. Unfortunately, this story has become the norm for many across the country wanting to become citizens. In Nebraska, the wait time of anywhere from 7 to 16.5 months means that people need to submit their application by June in order to be naturalized in time to vote in the 2020 elections.

In an effort to assist community members who are eligible for citizenship, Centro Hispano, a nonprofit organization in Columbus, held a Naturalization Clinic on April 24th, serving community members from many towns in Northeast Nebraska. The clinic helped 16 local residents take the first step toward citizenship by filing their naturalization application. For many of their clients, ranging from high school students to parents caring for their children, becoming U.S citizens means having stability for their families and their community.

“Carlos,” an immigrant Nebraskan, came to the U.S when he was only two years old. Nebraska has been his home for the past 12 years. He loves living in Nebraska because it’s a safe community for his family and there are many employment opportunities. He currently works at a meatpacking plant with a dream of becoming a police officer.

Due to the recent complicated changes occurring within immigration law, Carlos aspires to become a U.S citizen soon. He worries that if he does not naturalize, he could be separated from his family in the U.S. He can’t imagine going back to Mexico and leaving everything he’s ever known behind. Becoming a U.S citizen would create more stability for his family and allow him to pursue his dreams. After he completes the naturalization process, he plans to work toward his goal of becoming a police officer in the community that he loves.

NOW is the time to apply for citizenship. The ‘Invisible Wall’ is limiting full participation in U.S. society for residents who have been a valuable part of local communities for decades. This is contrary to the values of a democracy. That’s why we, together with partners across Nebraska and across the country, are raising public awareness on the current barriers to citizenship. Because when long-term residents take the step of becoming citizens, we grow and strengthen as a nation.

In partnership with local and national organizations:

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