Eloisa Haynes wants nothing more than to be a US citizen and build her life with her husband in Texas. But because of one small mistake when she was undocumented, her chance at citizenship is in question.
Just a few months ago, Eloisa was excited about finally being able to apply for citizenship. Brought to the US by her parents as a child almost 20 years ago, Eloisa had worked, saved, and graduated from college. She fell in love with and married a US citizen. She was just like any other American — except that she had no papers. She eventually became a permanent resident based on her marriage to Nick. And now with a citizenship acceptance letter printed and waiting to be mailed to her, Eloisa was ready for a new chapter.
And then she got the tragic news.
Her case manager had taken one last look at her application and discovered that Eloisa had falsely claimed to be a citizen when applying for work in the past — she was now ineligible for citizenship. Eloisa had told the truth in her citizenship application because it was the right thing to do. But now she was being told that she should never have even been granted permanent residency, since any persons making false citizenship claims are barred from receiving green cards and other immigration benefits.
Ever since anti-immigrant advocates helped pass harsh laws in 1996, the types of crimes that make immigrants ineligible for a green card and citizenship have grown tremendously. Even long-term legal residents with families in the US now face deportation for minor and non-violent crimes. That’s why it is essential that immigration reform should not add more restrictions to these already extreme criminal bars.
Eloisa is not alone. Millions are yearning for a chance to earn papers, with a new Latino Decisions poll showing that nine out of ten undocumented Americans would pursue citizenship if given the opportunity. This includes the immigrants who, in order to survive, had to falsify documents in order to work and provide for their families. These are hard-working immigrants like Eloisa.
Let’s be frank — if immigrants had papers, they wouldn’t need to use fake IDs for job applications to begin with. Even using a fake ID to drive to work can be an exclusionary item. Immigrants want to work and prosper in this nation, but without the proper documentation, they are barred from even the most entry-level positions and basic functions that many of us take for granted.
These harsh policies are far-reaching. In Eloisa’s case, her sole mistake — claiming she was a citizen just so she could sustain herself and pay her own way through college — threatens her future in the United States. Eloisa says removal proceedings could come any day now, and she is terrified that she’ll be separated from her husband Nick and the life they have built here. Our broken immigration system wants to punish her for her hard work, with Nick adding that she “has never even gotten a parking ticket.”
As written, the Senate’s immigration bill ensures that undocumented Americans can still apply for eventual citizenship. This is a major victory for Eloisa and our movement — but we still have a long fight ahead of us before this bill becomes law. We know that the leading anti-immigrant Senators, like Jeff Sessions (R – Alabama), who leads what we like to call the “Gang of Hate,” will do everything they can to keep Elosia from getting her citizenship. That’s why it’s up to us to fight and protect the path.
If the goal is to turn the undocumented in to documented immigrants, the law should not exclude people like Eloisa for doing what they needed to do to survive. Minor crimes, especially those related to being undocumented, should not exclude the undocumented, or people like Eloisa, from the opportunity to become a part of society. In fact, the reform Congress passes this year should restore humanity to the system, so that minor mistakes no longer equal banishment for immigrants who are American without papers.