Apply for citizenship! America needs your vote in November

Liliana Caracoza takes the oath of citizenship at a ceremony in Tacoma in September 2014. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)
Liliana Caracoza takes the oath of citizenship at a ceremony in Tacoma in September 2014. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

Becoming a U.S. citizen in 2010 was a profound moment for me.

As I stood at the oath ceremony I realized that, while I’d never had that clichéd dream of becoming an American, America had been a key part of making all my dreams come true.

When James Truslow Adams coined that term “the American Dream” back in 1931, he described the belief that, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement … regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

My own citizenship ceremony was filled with powerful music and imagery that touted American values like liberty, freedom and equality.

These are the things that make America special. Yet those very values are at stake today. The flag still stands for freedom, as Lee Greenwood sung in Proud to be an American during my ceremony. But the truth is that freedom is being challenged. The current domestic rhetoric on immigration, refugees, Muslims and diversity are taking away freedom of speech, religion and equality.

Consequently, the next presidential election will be one of the most defining elections this country has ever seen. Not only does it matter to our domestic future, but also to the future of the world. America’s power and influence has lasting ramifications and consequences in global relationships and decisions. The world need the U.S. to lead in a positive way.

As a citizen of the United States, one of the most powerful tools you have at hand is your right to vote. It is your voice in the decision of who will lead this nation, who will lead you, and who will lead the world. Never has this right, this moral obligation, been more important than this moment in history.

And while the presidential race is in the limelight right now, there is much at stake at our very own doorstep too. Important Senate and Congressional seats in our state are going to be hotly contested. It is incumbent upon us to elect the best people to continue to represent us at the federal level.

As soon as you're sworn in, you can register to vote. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)
As soon as you’re sworn in, you can register to vote. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

If you’re a Legal Permanent Resident (LPRs) you can apply for naturalization (citizenship) after five years of residency (or three years if LPR status was obtained through marriage to a U.S. citizen).

Yet there are many LPRs who have been here much longer, but for a variety of reasons, opt not to apply to be naturalized. Some are worried about losing citizenship to their home country, or the tax consequences of dual citizenship. Sometimes it’s just a sheer lack of time to navigate the process.

But if you’ve called the United States your home for years, and intend to stay in the United States for years to come, why wouldn’t you care who your leader is?

If all the above is striking a chord, don’t worry, you still have enough time to apply for citizenship and be ready to vote by November — but only if you act expeditiously.  It is currently taking about eight months to process citizenship applications in Seattle. With USCIS adding new officers, there is hope the processing time will be reduced soon.

While the application fee is expensive at $680, immigration Executive Action of November 2014 included introduction of credit card payments the first time for naturalization applications. Take advantage of it!

As immigrants, each of us needs to take action on who will be our leaders. We cannot rely on our friends or neighbors to be our voice. We cannot assume that someone else will do it. We need to be engaged and we need to vote.

The power is in our hands.

Washington New Americans is holding a citizenship clinic in Seattle on Saturday, February 6th. Volunteer lawyers and paralegals will be on hand offering free help with citizenship applications and prep for naturalization tests. Details here.

You can get started right now on your citizenship application here.

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