The Price of Citizenship

I know that the title sounds all kinds of ominous and political. Even though I'm very politically opinionated, I try not to do it here (or at least I keep it to a minimum). The reason why I'm writing about citizenship is because I came across this article in the New York Times last night.

For those who have to apply for citizenship after the 5 years, or 3 years, or whatever time requirement the individual's circumstances wararant, it is a very lengthy and expensive process. Not only does the applicant have to pay for the application fee itself (which costs a couple hundred dollars per person), but there are other fees involved. The application isn't a very user-friendly one. Most often, those applying for citizenship will have to pay someone to do it, such as a lawyer (and I know better how much that costs). Then there are more fees involved in getting pictures taken, and perhaps in hunting down all the necessary documents. There are also time commitments in the form of appointments for fingerprinting and "the interview." Personally, I know people who got their interview in a year, and others who had to wait a couple of years, even though they are members of the same family. Some people might have to go through more than one.

Most people do want to apply for citizenship right when they can, but unfortunately, the application process is already expensive as it is. Many immigrants are low-income, so a couple hundred dollars is a lot. If there are other family members, the total costs of obtaining citizenship for the entire family can run into the thousands. That's one of the reasons why it gets put off--it takes a lot of time to save up that kind of money. There really isn't much of a choice.

While it is tough to scrape together the money to get it done, it might be a good idea to make it a priority if you are in this situation. I'm not saying that anyone should get into debt to do this (it would be a bad, bad idea), but try to start saving long before you're eligible for citizenship. As the NYT article mentioned, the USCIS (formerly known as the INS) is seeking a "substantial" fee increase in order to cut down on the backlog. The estimated figure is $400 per application. In a world where the University of California tuition has gone up 20% in the blink of an eye and keeps on rising, I have a feeling that the $400 figure will go up even higher. I know that it's extremely difficult to put together that kind of money, but putting it off will only get more expensive in the long run.

Citzenship certainly confers a lot of benefits. It eliminates the constant fear that one arrest can lead to deportation (no, I'm not exaggerating here), it allows a person to get the necessary clearance for defense/government jobs, and so on. Here's where I get a little political: in return, we should fulfill our duties as citizens. Go vote in next month's elections. If you're too lazy to go to the polling place, do absentee balloting. Remember that your vote will ultimately decide how your money is spent via government policies, no matter what your political affiliation is.

Another duty is jury duty. Grumble as much as much as you want whenever you get that jury summon, but make sure you go. I'm griping about how I have to call in each night this week to find out if I have to serve, but at least I'm grateful that they didn't make me go during finals yet again (does the "random" juror selection computer have a sixth sense when it comes to students or something?). Oh well, I'm sure that I won't make it past the voir dire stage anyway. If you're a student who is ordered to serve during finals, try to get a postponement for the holidays or early next quarter/semester, when school isn't busy. Dumping the jury summons and pretending you never got it is a baaad idea.

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