President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he supported sending the military to guard the U.S.-Mexico border. In an era where global crises are expelling immigrants from their homelands and forcing them to seek refuge elsewhere, this proposed militarization of the American border is an unjust, inhumane act.
Yet, such threats are flanked on both sides of the American border: Not only must immigrants grapple with the possibility that the United States may turn them away and deny them safety and livelihood, but even if these individuals are fortunate enough to receive asylum, they must also live with the outsider-status that has been widely assigned to them in this country. This holds especially true for those who are noncitizens. A fallacy that is frequently used to explain why certain individuals remain undocumented or unnaturalized assumes that these individuals are lazy or unproductive. But this could not be further from the truth.
Since Fall 2017, the USC Gould School of Law has run the University’s immigration clinic. Under the direction of Gould faculty members Niels Frenzen and Jean Reisz, students from the law school voluntarily staff the clinic, which offers free help to members of the community seeking citizenship. More specifically, these students are working to demystify and universalize the process of naturalization as a whole. This program promotes inclusivity by acknowledging the barriers immigrants face in becoming citizens.
The Migration Policy Institute reported that as of 2016, roughly 11.2 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States. To generalize such a sizable population as lazy or unproductive is a gross mischaracterization, for it wholly neglects the ways in which these populations have contributed to American society. Efforts, then, must be made to grant citizenship to this ever-growing demographic.
It is necessary to recognize that inaccessibility to citizenship is an issue that is, by nature, intersectional. How can individuals afford to take time out of their days to gain citizenship if they are surviving day-by-day, paycheck-by paycheck? If they are being persecuted in public spaces for their noncitizen status? How can non-native English speakers in America even attempt to tackle the puzzling naturalization process in the first place?
Therefore, it is necessary to recognize that citizenship is largely inaccessible to those in low economic, educational and social standing. In the wake of this national dilemma, USC appears to have elected to take the right course of action.
Thanks to the Gould clinic’s efforts, which have garnered support and funding from Provost Michael Quick, roughly 200 Angelenos have been able to take advantage of these pro bono services and earn the citizenship they have so long aspired to. For many of these former non-citizens, becoming a citizen is not only a source of pride, but also a first step toward other privileges, which include voting and traveling internationally. The fact that these clinic-goers, some of whom have lived in the United States for their entire lives, could not previously attain citizenship on their own signals an ongoing crisis of inaccessibility to citizenship in America. However, USC’s immigration clinic provides a promising glimpse at the looming democratization of citizenship, and it is time that this sort of aid expands to the national level.
For Monique Magbuhos, a University employee who was born in the Philippines and has been a long-time resident of the United States, citizenship was a long-time goal — though a seemingly unattainable one. In her case, she wanted to become a citizen so she could visit Paris. The immigration clinic helped Magbuhos attain citizenship, a status she once believed would not be possible without great difficulty and expense.
“I felt like a foreigner,” Magbuhos said in an interview with USC News. “Now I feel like I belong somewhere.”
Now a U.S. citizen, Magbuhos plans to travel to Paris. What Magbuhos’ story reveals is that citizenship can secure one’s sense of belonging and pride in the United States, both feelings which are conducive to citizens’ productivity in and reverence toward this country.