What Does Citizenship Mean to Me?
August 13, 2012 by HRC staff
What Does Citizenship Mean to Me?
This post comes from HRC Diversity Intern Francisco Hernandez:
Interning for HRC’s Diversity Department and experiencing HRC’s involvement in ya es hora during this critical election year got me thinking - “What do full citizenship rights mean to me?” President Barack Obama recently came out in support of deferred action for DREAMers and marriage equality and, shortly after, national Latino civil rights groups such as National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) came out strongly in support of marriage equality. Both of Obama’s announcements resonated strongly with me as a gay, immigrant, and Latino male, and I began to think closely about the ties between citizenship and marriage equality.
As an immigrant, citizenship would give me the right to vote on issues that would impact my life, such as marriage equality, and for candidates who support causes that are important to me. Citizenship would also give me the right to live without fear of being separated from my family and other loved ones, and the right to work and contribute fully to the American economy and society without condition on a permit or visa.
To be a full citizen, however, I as a gay man should have the same rights as everyone else. I should have the right to marry the man I love. I should have access to the 1,138 rights, benefits, and protections that are granted to married couples on a federal level, and be able to get married anywhere, not only in one of the six states that have legalized marriage equality and in the District of Columbia. To be a full citizen, I should have the right to sponsor my partner for residency if he were of a different nationality — the right to never again have to live in danger of being separated from my loved ones. To be a full citizen, I should have the right to work without fear of being fired for my sexual identity. In 29 states, however, it is legal to fire me for being gay; it would be even worse in the 34 states where I can be fired if I were transgender. To be a full citizen, I should not be just a second-class citizen, and should not continue to experience many of the same things that I experience as an immigrant.
This is what full citizenship is. This is why NCLR and LULAC recently came out in support of marriage equality for the LGBT community. HRC empowers people to become citizens by supporting citizenship workshops through ya es hora and similar campaigns. There are about 8.5 million people eligible to become U.S. citizens, and since 2009, HRC has been working with coalitions to help people apply for citizenship. This summer alone, HRC worked with over 30 coalition partners to help nearly 700 individuals apply to become citizens and educate them about the naturalization process. This brings the total to approximately 2,000 immigrants assisted and educated by HRC and partners since the beginning of this important election year.
So, what does it mean to be a citizen? To have the right to vote and participate politically in the issues that I care about, to live without fear of being separated from my family, to contribute my talents fully in the American workplace, and the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of my sexual identity or immigration status. These are issues that I understand all too well as both a gay person and an immigrant, and this is why HRC is engaged with our immigrant communities – to help them become citizens, and empower them in the fight for full, equal rights for everyone.
May 17, 2013