American citizenship is something sought by many of the immigrants who come to the U.S. every year, a means by which some of those from less wealthy countries attempt to increase their opportunities and quality of life.
If becoming an American citizen is sought after, how easy is it to get? Why do people come from around the world to get it? What’s the difference between being American and being a citizen of the U. S.?
Business management junior Dominique Laporte was born in Guatemala but is a natural-born American citizen because of his American father.
“I’m just as much of an American as you are,” Laporte said. “I’ve been living here for four or five years. I wasn’t born here. There were a lot of traditions that were new to me when I came.”
Laporte said many Americans take their freedoms for granted.
“There’s so many things and opportunities and freedoms that you don’t see in a Third World country like Guatemala, for example. That’s where I grew up. I grew up in a Third World country, where there’s a lot of corrupt politicians. There was a lot of violence on every corner. There are poor people, like truly poor people that live on nothing,” Laporte said.
Laporte’s wife, who is from Romania, is currently in the process of gaining her U.S. citizenship while she lives here on a student visa. According to Laporte, his wife could not work or leave the country for over six months while her paperwork was processed after they got married.
“You have to be ready, financially, to go through the process,” Laporte said. “It’s not easy and it’s not cheap. Mentally, it’s (hard) for your significant other because they just have to sit at home and they can’t work.”
After this, Laporte and his wife had to undergo an interview process to get her green card.
“After they give you that, you wait a couple of months, and then they call you and say, ‘Hey, you have an interview.’ They tell you the day, the time and the place. In our case, the place was New Orleans and it was actually on Valentine’s Day,” Laporte said. “They’ll ask you questions about your life, how you met, her birthday, my birthday, to kind of make sure that the relationship is real and we’re not faking it.”
Laporte said it will still take his wife upward of five years to gain full citizenship.
“My wife’s green card is only valid for two years, so from 2019 to 2021. After that, you have to go back in and submit some documentation for another two years … On the fifth year (of having a green card) she can apply to become a U.S. citizen,” Laporte said.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette political science professor Christie Maloyed, Ph.D., said there is more than one way to define citizenship.
“There is legal definition of citizenship which defines how a person is a member of a nation-state. With citizenship, there come certain rights, like, usually, the ability to move within that country freely or, in some cases, the ability to move in and out of that nation freely,” Maloyed said, adding while the U.S. doesn’t include the right to vote with citizenship, many other countries do.
Maloyed said the social definition of citizenship is more subjective.
“Normatively, there’s this sense of feeling like you belong and like you’re a part of that community,” Maloyed said.
Maloyed agreed with Laporte in that the citizenship process is time-consuming and financially straining.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about becoming a citizen is that it’s fast and relatively cheap. Neither of those two things are true,” Maloyed said.
According to Maloyed, many people equate being an American citizen with being an American, even if this may not always be the case.
“I would say that, for a lot of people, those two things are synonymous,” Maloyed said, “Being an American though, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have citizenship. We have many people who are here and who live here for years and years and don’t obtain citizenship.”
For Laporte, being an American and an American citizen is something he treasures.
“For me, to be an American is a great thing. I love it. I love this country. I love to be a part of a society that works and functions the way it does. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s getting better,” Laporte said. “That’s why people try to come to this country … the idea of freedom and the idea of, ‘If I work hard enough, I’m going to go somewhere.’”