Katelyn Chostner, Editor-in-Chief
To celebrate Constitution Day, the Constitution Committee put together the Citizenship Human Library. Speakers, Aminata Diallo, senior, international relations, Richard Middleton, associate professor of political science and Adriano Udani, assistant professor of political science, gathered in the Student Fireside Lounge to talk about citizenship and the naturalization process.
A member of the Constitution Committee, Anita Manion, professor of political science, talked about what the committee wanted to communicate on this year’s Constitution Day. The focus of this year’s event was based on the meaning of citizenship. The reason they chose this kickoff was to spread awareness on the importance and processes of becoming a citizen. The committee decided it would be important to go over citizenship from the perspective of people who have gone through the naturalization process or know someone who has.
“So, for those of us that are born here we sort of sometimes take our citizenship for granted … But thinking about what it is like to go through that process, helping people understand there’s a lot of confusion and talk around changing the process is helping people understand what it’s like from both perspectives,” said Manion.
Another member of the committee, Patricia Zahn, the director of Des Lee Collaborative Vision and Community Outreach & Engagement, mentioned how this year’s event was a little more laid-back. The Citizen Human Library let students and faculty create a more relaxed dialogue to talk about the constitution. It created the opportunity for attendees to sit back, listen and express their own thoughts about citizenship.
Diallo talked about her mother’s 10-year process of getting her citizenship. Diallo came to the U.S. in 1998 with her mother and two sisters under political asylum and applied for visas. When her mother came over she did not speak English and yet she worked with various lawyers to file for citizenship. She spent over $20,000 during the whole immigration process. Diallo’s mother was able to work, but since she was not fluent in English it made finding a job difficult. Diallo talked about how her mother went back to school to better her English and prepare for the U.S. Citizenship Test.
“In order to get your citizenship, you have to pass this really extensive civic test about U.S. history and you have to display proficiency in English and you have to make sure you have legal representation and you have to have someone in the states who’s willing to vouch for you,” said Diallo.
Middleton, who has his own solo practice with an emphasis in immigration law defense against minor criminal infractions, went over the citizenship test with listeners. He mentioned that the test is not only about the answers, but also the applicant’s behaviors. The government tracks the travels of people who are trying to obtain citizenship. Middleton works with people who are applying for citizenship and says the questions on the test seemed to be repeated on other tests. This implies that each test is the same for each applicant. Middleton told the audience that there are many online resources available if legal representation cannot be obtained right away.
The last speaker, Adriano, has an interest in immigration politics and interactions with immigration enforcement in the U.S.
“I’m a political scientist, I’ve been in this school for a long time; I would fail [the U.S. citizenship] test,” said Adriano.
Adriano is a second-generation immigrant of a Filipino family. His family said the class and test were terrible things to go through. The test is made up of basic questions that U.S. citizens are taught when they are younger and most likely forget over time.
“It raises a good question about how we actually teach and make sure that [natural-born citizens] do know about our government … But at the same time using [this] criteria to judge who’s deserving enough to be called a citizen. It gets a little dicey and makes me feel a little uncomfortable,” said Adriano.
Students, staff and faculty at the event were able to enhance their knowledge on struggles that people experience when applying for citizenship. People who are natural-born citizens had the chance to put themselves in the shoes of citizenship applicants.