I immigrated to the United States from El Salvador when I was four years old with my mother, and maternal grandparents. I am now 20 and in those 16 years I have had two jobs, maintained a 3.9 GPA at a major university, and have volunteered my time to try and make my community a better place. I have never run afoul of the law besides one lone speeding ticket. Yet, the one thing I have never been able to do, and still cannot, might be one of the most important rights the U.S. Constitution grants: the right to vote.
I can’t vote because I am not technically a naturalized citizen of the United States. I am a legal permanent resident; meaning I can reside within the country legally for as long as I desire and do as I please within the law, besides casting a ballot.
The same question has been raised to me when I have told people this fact: if you have lived here for so long why not just become a naturalized citizen?
I always reply the same way: I, along with my mother and grandmother, have not gained citizenship because the process costs $680. I believe that making the price to become a naturalized citizen so steep deters immigrant families from becoming naturalized, and is idiotic. I am not asking to gain free citizenship, I am willing to pay. But I think it should be at a much more reasonable price so that more immigrants could actually afford it without sacrificing their rent payment.
Coming from El Salvador we didn’t have a lot, luckily my aunt, who is a realtor, let us stay in her lovely home in Thousand Oaks where we still reside. We moved out and had a townhouse in Moorpark for a few years but when the economy and housing market collapsed my mother lost both her jobs. After a while of moving around we went back to live with my aunt.
Since arriving in America my mother has always held a minimum of two jobs, sometimes three, just to support my small family. Mortgages or rent, food, clothes, medical expenses for my grandparents, etc. have all kept our minds on other things besides citizenship. In recent years, my mother has been employed at Costco where she has a very good salary. It is now that we have been able to begin discussing saving up for all of us to take the test in light of this horrid election cycle.
I’ve always had food, clothes, even extras like electronics and games, but after what I’ve seen in this election: the racism, misogyny, and the hatred going around, the consensus in my family is that we should start saving to become naturalized citizens of the U.S. We have lived here for almost two decades abiding every law and rule, paying taxes like every American, we want to vote.
I am powerless in this election. Before it wouldn’t have angered me but now it does. I am frustrated that I didn’t have a say on who leads this country whether on a national or local level. I am angry that it costs almost $700 to become a naturalized citizen of a place that I have called home almost all of my life. But most of all I am sickened and furious that my voice, along with the voices of thousands of other immigrants who may not have the option to save that much money, have had our voices rendered mute.
Danny Arriaza is a contributor for the Sundial and is majoring in journalism.