The American passport: hope,luck privilege

Laura Hennawi, editor

Moving to the United States, I was shocked at how many people I knew didn’t have a passport. Having to migrate countries and being familiar with the American citizenship process from family members, renewing passports or filling out extra paperwork for the vital visa is a routine. However, it was finally put in perspective for me when I moved here: disregarding the countless factors that account for a trip overseas, a person with an American passport is allowed into about 183 countries without a visa or additional papers. 

How can you travel without a visa? Can people really just waltz into another country without preparing months in advance with paper work? Carrying a Syrian passport, I can only enter 13 countries without a visa, not one of them located in Europe or North America. In addition to the already tedious process of acquiring a visa and paperwork in the first place, new travel bans have perpetuated the bureaucratic, long and taxing process of American immigration and travel. However, the problem is not only concentrated in international travelling to and from the United States. Trying to migrate permanently to the United States is tremendously difficult for primarily non-European citizens, the green card and citizenship process exacerbated by the failure of the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) to accommodate staffing for the increased flow of applications.

The systematic failures of the immigration process have long hindered the legal migration and travel of non-citizens: the exorbitantly high price and the lengthy time which the process takes trapping applicants in a limbo of uncertainty. Most federal services in the United States are only applicable to permanent residents like green card holders and American citizens, and while the rule is valid, it is unjust to limit privileges when the legal way to acquire them can take decades. For example, I have been waiting for seven years so far in preliminary stages because of USCIS backlog, which is when the USCIS stores an application away to process more recent applications, postponing the older applications past the desired time frame. I know of people who have waited up to 25 years, and for me personally, these faults even infiltrated into college applications, costing me scholarship opportunities, financial aid and decisions. It is long and expensive, and the acceptance of a system that can make people wait 25 years to become permanent residents or citizens is an extremely unfair process for prospective law-abiding, working immigrants. 

Many people are inexperienced with the American immigration system, which is a warranted excuse for the incomprehension of the entire process. However, it is this ignorance that can fuel hateful sentiment and bigotry, as telling people to just “become citizens” is not as easy and feasible. The citizenship process is much more than a basic history test and a little flag given at a ceremony; people spend time, money and effort learning a country’s history, language and culture to access a privilege simply being born in this country provides. Many people have told me they would love to abandon an American citizenship, which would not hold true if wishes were to come true.