For millions of immigrants, home is not where the citizenship is.

On Friday the Denver Post published the story of Wilfredo Matamoros, a 33-year-old small-town grocer who’s made the United States his home for the past 19 years after fleeing war-torn El Salvador. He wants to become an American citizen, but his peculiar status provides him no pathway to citizenship.

From the Denver Post:

Matamoros is allowed to stay in the country under what is called Temporary Protective Status along with more than 300,000 other immigrants living in the U.S. — 209,000 of them Salvadorans.

TPS, as it is called for short, is a blanket status granted to immigrants who come to the United States from a changeable list of countries that have suffered major disruptions ranging from civil wars to natural disasters. El Salvador is on that list along with Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Syria.

The secretary of Homeland Security decides every 18 months or so which countries should stay on the list, which should be added, and which should have protective status rescinded.

Matamoros has been lucky in that regard: El Salvador’s protective status has been renewed eight times. Each renewal buys him more time in his adopted country but little peace of mind.

It’s hard to imagine what it must feel like to be a worthy member of society and not be a citizen of the state — a political paradox that should nauseate any democracy-loving reader.

Anyone living here, learning here, creating a family here and contributing to here should have the right to vote here and carry the eminent label, “American.”

Providing a pathway to citizenship for those who want and deserve it should be of the utmost importance in drafting an immigration reform bill. Without it, we’ll be reestablishing a second-class citizenry in America (and just when we thought we’d gotten rid of all that 50 years ago).

Plus, there’s a name for people who do a lot of the work but aren’t allowed to cast a ballot (well, for the first 80 years they went by two names).

It’s crushing to see how many Latinos are eligible for citizenship today but decide, for whatever reason, not to take the extra step. The Pew Hispanic (Latino) Center published the numbers in a report cleverly titled “The Path Not Taken.”

According to Pew, close to two-thirds of all Mexican immigrants who are eligible for citizenship haven’t applied for it. By comparison, 32 percent of non-Mexican immigrants who are eligible haven’t applied either.

Twenty-six percent say “language and other personal barriers” have kept them from becoming citizens — a genuine fear amongst many immigrants, though they should know that language barrier to American citizenship is quite low, as it should be.

Another 26 percent, however, say they simply haven’t applied yet or have no interest in applying.

That’s stupidity bordering on insanity, like pooling your money with roommates but then choosing to have no say in the house rules or how the money is spent.

Regular readers know how much I despise citizens who choose not to vote on Election Day. Nonetheless, I can safely say that immigrants who don’t take the path to citizenship are far worse than the no-good nonvoter.

At least the nonvoter chooses to give no opinion. The self-designated non-citizen, on the other hand, is choosing not to even be asked their opinion.

As a second-generation American, the issue’s a personal one for me. I have family members who couldn’t wait to cast their first vote, and others who are still awaiting that honor.

I also have family members who are happy being permanent residents and show no intention of taking the next step. They’re blissfully ignored.

It’s an affront to the immigrant experience, so closely tied to the Latino one. Generations of immigrants have come here wanting to work, wanting be counted, wanting be heard and wanting to help make America a better place for the next generations.

Immigrants like Wilfredo, who makes sure his grocery store is tidy and his customers are satisfied, while hoping to one day call himself an American.

 

[Photo: ctj71081 via Flickr]

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