Central New York

In Their Shoes: The Lives of Legal Immigrants to the United States

Pedestrians crossing from Mexico into the United States at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry wait in line in San Diego. The Trump administration is proposing rules that could deny green cards to immigrants if they use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers and other forms of public assistance. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

Click the play button to hear Dannia Coronel and Sudeep Penmetsa discuss issues facing legal immigrants today.
A transcript of the above audio is available here.

By Julian Baron SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC NEWS) — With the infamous migrant caravan at America’s doorstep, controversy about immigration to our nation is at an all-time high. The current White House administration has adopted a hardline stance when it comes to immigration policy, sparking disagreement amongst Americans at an already politically contentious time.

Most, if not all, of this hubbub stems from illegal immigration and how the United States should handle illegals’ entry, naturalization, and in some cases, deportation. As a result, legal immigrants, along with their stories, experiences and opinions, are often given much less attention comparatively.

So what is it like to be a legal immigrant to the United States? Dannia Coronel, a Mexican-American immigrant, knows firsthand what it is like to come to America through the legal process. After holding a green card until she was eighteen, Dannia applied to become a U.S. citizen, kicking off a year-long legal journey for naturalization.

“You have to learn one hundred questions of U.S. history and they only ask you ten, so you don’t know which ten they’re asking you,” Dannia said. “First you go in and put in your prints, and then they call you again three months later, maybe, and then you come back to submit some other papers and then you wait until they call you to take the test. Then if you pass or fail that you wait another certain amount of time and you do the pledge of allegiance and listen to some people talk, and then you get you your certificate, your U.S. certificate, and that’s when you’re a U.S. citizen, officially.”

Though Dannia went through the legal immigration process as an adult, she was aided by the fact that her father had been working in the United States since she was much younger and, as a result, she had a green card. The United States requires new residents to hold green cards for at least five years before applying for naturalization. Even with this requirement fulfilled, Dannia still deems the immigration experience as far too tedious.

“I feel like, to an extent, it is [too tedious] because these people have been working for this for a long time and then some of the people don’t even get the citizenship and have to resort to other means of staying in the country,” Dannia said. “I feel like it is valid to do screenings and all of that, but I think it’s also a very long process.”

One part of the immigration process that particularly stood out to Dannia was the so-called Americanization exercises she was forced to undergo.

“I think learning all of the history and forcing them to speak English, because you need to learn the language and then learn its history,” Dannia said. “I don’t think that’s fair because not even some Americans know the history behind it.”

With the legal immigration process behind her, Dannia is now studying Studio Art at Syracuse University and hopes to earn her bachelor’s degree in just a few short years. Statistics indicate that earning a college degree, whether you’re an immigrant or not, increases your chance of employment considerably. This is rather unsurprising at face value, but in an era when the American Dream is often called into question, it’s important to analyze which socioeconomic factors promote economic mobility.

Sudeep Penmetsa, the son of two Indian-American immigrants, sees a college education paired with informed career choices as the key to success for those immigrating to American. Sudeep, who is currently studying at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management and S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, bases his beliefs on the successes and experiences of his parents.

“To find success, they both [Sudeep’s parents] went to college and started working after that,” Sudeep said. “My mom worked for Merrill Lynch in their I.T. department and my dad worked at B.M.S. for pharmaceuticals, and I think they just went into industries that were growing.”

Sudeep’s family lives comfortably just north of Philadelphia in Doylestown, Pa. Based on his and his parents’ experiences, Sudeep rejects the idea that race plays a factor in immigrants’ success and instead holds true to the idea that personal choices make all the difference.

“I think the American dream is still alive. You have to put yourself in the right position,” Sudeep says. “If you become a musician, and you’re an immigrant, and you don’t make it, you can’t really blame the system because you became a musician. If you become an engineer or you become a doctor, if you’re black, white or Hispanic, you will be successful.”

In a world where globalists and nationalists are constantly at odds, immigration, both legal and illegal, has never been more controversial or in-question, and for those who have gone through the immigration process themselves, this issue is full of emotion and reflection. Though there will never be one single immigration policy that satisfies everyone’s desires, it’s safe to say that immigrants to the United States will continue to push for policies that they think is righteous based on their own experiences for as long as America exists.