It’s the day before the election. The day before the election in which Hillary Clinton, who happens to be the first woman in U.S. history to win the nomination of a major political party, will appear on the ballot. The day before this country makes a choice between two presidential candidates that could not be more different. It is the day before the election and everything I believe in is at stake.
It is the day before the election.
And I cannot vote.
I have been a permanent resident in this country for the past 15 years and although I am eligible to apply for naturalization—a word I don’t have time to dissect here and deserves its own post because verdaderamente me cae mal (I have not yet done so).
As I begin to sweat while thinking about the future of this country, angry at myself for not having the right to vote, I see the importance of this civic duty from a unique perspective.
I look back at my life and wonder why I did not go through the necessary channels to obtain the right to vote on a federal level so that I could be ready for this election. Had I done so, I could avoid the permanent fear that is surging through my fingertips as I write this.
But there is no time for regrets y esta Latina no tiene tiempo para boludeses.
The main reason I have not become a citizen is because it costs too much money. I make too much money to apply for a fee waiver (https://www.uscis.gov/i-912p) but not enough to come up with the required amount to begin my application—which ends up costing many immigrants about $1200 (https://www.uscis.gov/n-400). This is per person. Of course, that number does not include travel or taking days off work to stand in lines several times only to be told that, “You forgot to bring something”—which happens every time. Recently, my permanent resident card expired and I had to get it renewed for another 10 years. This cost me $365. I’m not mad about any of this; I do it gladly.
I arrived to the U.S, an immigrant orphan, and was eventually adopted by an American family. They became my legal guardians and that is how I was able to stay in this country. The process was grueling, expensive, and nothing was ever guaranteed. Our lawyer told us that we could embark on this journey and end up empty-handed. I think it’s probably part of their job to tell us this, but it didn’t make it any easier to hear it.
It took almost four years for my papers to be finalized.
After we sent in my final application with all the required forms, fees and documents, we were warned that it could be months before we heard back. Like today, I did not have the luxury of time. Once you turn 18, you become an adult. My application would be null and void after my 18th birthday. All that money, time, and hope for a better future would turn to nothing.
I don’t remember much of the legal jargon from back then, I just remember feeling scared. And helpless. Like I feel today. I want to be part of a country that welcomes immigrants, a country that respects all human beings. I have spent hours studying the USCIS website (U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services).
If you think it’s easy to become a citizen of this country, I encourage you to visit www.uscis.gov
I came here seeking a better life. My brother and I wanted to find a path to citizenship no matter how hard and costly the process was. At every step of the way, we found hurdles. Still, I do not take for granted that I was one of the lucky ones.
Many immigrants can’t afford the costly fees. Many have to debate whether they can spend money on applying for their green cards (if they a)qualify b) have the money to begin with), or send that money back home. If we choose ourselves instead of family, the guilt never goes away. At least mine hasn’t. I do not spend a single dollar without considering my family back home— I know that many need it much more than I do. Still, I wish that tomorrow I could vote.
It is the day before the biggest election in my lifetime and I am reminiscing of the day I first set foot in this country. My brother spent his life savings on me, hoping that today I would have a voice in this critical time in our history. But I have failed him and I am ashamed of that. So I am writing this because it is the strongest platform I have.
If you have the privilege of being able to vote in this election, please exercise that privilege tomorrow. Please make it count.
Your vote matters. You voice matters. You matter. Do not throw away the right that so many of us hope to one day exercise. It would cost this country too much.