From Homeland 411
By Rachel Schultz
When 16-year-old Hefzi Lopez said goodbye to her parents, José and Cecilia Lopez, in 2008, she felt betrayed. She was a U.S. citizen by birth, but her parents had been unsuccessful in their efforts to become citizens as well. After nine years of legal battles in the immigration court system, background checks, three lawyers, and thousands of dollars in legal fees and appeals, a judge delivered the final verdict: Mr. Lopez was approved for residency status, but his wife was not. An expired visa had thrown a wrench into the process, and there was nothing the couple could do but return to Mexico and wait for a decade, after which they could reapply for residency and then citizenship. Faced with the court’s decision, José and Cecilia decided to take Hefzi’s younger sister, Kirsten, also a U.S. citizen, with them back to Mexico.
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Hefzi, now married to Adam Fillion, a Canadian-American, said her parents told her they would send for her once they sorted everything out. “They were so terrified of losing me over there,” she said, as the threat of kidnapping—particularly for females 16 to 25 years old—was extremely high. “I actually thought they didn’t want me. I thought I wasn’t good enough or smart enough.” It’s an experience she wouldn’t wish on anyone.
According to the Pew Research Center, 76 percent of the immigrant population in the United States—about 65 million people—has entered the United States legally. Of these, more than 1 million are green card holders, making them legal permanent residents. More than 230,000 people successfully became citizens last fiscal year, as reported by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). But what is the legal immigration process actually like for the people who go through it?
Legal Immigration Pathways
An immigrant must complete a number of steps in order to become a U.S. citizen. Among the requirements are documents for proof of birth, legal status, travel, and a host of other information. All would-be citizens must register for Selective Service, be residents of the United States for three to five years, take a biometrics test, be fingerprinted, and pass an English and civics test.
Regardless of what category they fall into, immigrants first must obtain a green card—also known as an immigration visa—which allows them to become permanent residents of the United States. Various ways to obtain a green card include being a relative or spouse of a citizen, sponsorship by a U.S. company, entering an annual green card lottery, founding or investing in a U.S. company, or filing for asylum or refugee status.
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