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Know your status: Citizen, legal resident, or undocumented

Ben Margot, AP

Ben Margot, AP

The immigration process in the United States is complicated, lengthy, and confusing; and it appears that it has perplexed people to the point where some immigrants are not even sure of what their immigration status is, whether they are legal or not, whether they are even American citizens or not. According to a Fox News Latino report, there are many Latinos who identify as either legal residents or undocumented and are unaware that they are, in actuality, United States citizens. It often takes the assistance, and cost, of legal counsel to clarify one’s true legal status.

For example, there are some cases where immigrant parents are not aware that when they became citizens, their minor children automatically become citizens as well. These parents continue to renew residency cards without ever being informed by the government that their children are no longer considered “foreigners”. With the complex laws and procedures that are involved in the immigration process, having an attorney or official explain the process could help prevent unnecessary grief, though it can come at great monetary cost.

Sometimes there are other factors that lead to confusion in immigration status. Lisa Pray, an attorney in Fort Morgan, Colorado, stated, “In some cases, the parents returned with their children to their countries of origin and never told them they were born here. In other cases, they know they were born here, but the parents obtained a false birth certificate in Mexico, and so now they have lots of problems proving they were really born in the United States.” Pray goes on to note one case in which a young man came to her in regards to the immigration situation of him and his younger brother. He explained how his parents became United States citizens fifteen years prior, and he and his brother had been renewing their green cards for over ten years. Pray explained to the young man that as a result of his parents becoming citizens while he and his brother were both minors, both sons had ultimately become citizens at that time, without their knowledge. In effect, these young men were renewing their green cards each year without any indication from the United States Citizen and Immigration Services that it was completely unnecessary.

When Latinos are unaware of their immigration status and are in fact United States citizens, their voices are not being heard. These eligible adults could be voting and fully participating in American society. In essence, they can effectively come out of the shadows. They could have the opportunity to contribute in even greater ways to society, affecting both the Latino community and America as a whole. Their futures could be brighter. And the unnecessary worry, fear, and silence can be avoided.

When Lisa Pray informed the aforementioned young man that he and his younger brother were indeed, American citizens, she related, ‘“The joy in his face was indescribable.”’ And that is what immigrating to the United States is all about: the freedom to pursue happiness and achieve the joy of being able to live the American Dream.

By Being Latino Contributor, Marcos Hand

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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