Every year, about a million people become American citizens. Though immigrants and naturalized citizens together are more than 10 percent of the population, the parceling out of citizenship remains among our most contentious and intractable issues, in part because who can become an American is fundamental to answering the question: What is America?
Yet, even Thanksgiving, that quintessentially American fête of mashed potatoes and pigskin, is ultimately an immigrant story. (If you recall, the pilgrims were foreigners trying to survive their first winter in a strange and unforgiving land). What better time, then, to add few more?
In fact, San Lorenzo's own immigrant population has exploded since 2000, according to aggregated data and anecdotal evidence from local agencies.
Safe streets, an abundance of affordable housing and proximity to more established immigrant communities in Oakland have all helped entice newcomers here, causing the number of English learners in local schools to double over the past decade, even as county and statewide numbers have remained relatively steady.
Though the national debate has tended to focus on just one group—undocumented migrants from Mexico, who make up 62 percent of unauthorized immigrants in the United States—the immigrants who've settled in San Lorenzo, Ashland and Cherryland are as varied as almost anywhere in the country.
Equally diverse are the paths they took to get here. Among residents who so generously shared their stories with us, one was about to mail his naturalization application, one was studying for his citizenship test and one had naturalized just days after giving birth to her second child. Still others are waiting for the day when a path to citizenship will open up for them.
Tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday, San Lorenzo Patch will introduce you to just a few of these local newcomers: two Latin American asylum seekers and a diversity-visa lottery winner from Ethiopia; a retired professor from China and an undocumented teenager from Mexico.
We'll also explain the sometimes byzantine system of visas, status adjustments and classifications that took each of them from the far flung corners of the world to southern Alameda County, with helpful links to local agencies.
On Thursday, we'll delve into a controversial new federal immigration enforcement program that arrived in Alameda County this spring, and show you its devastating impact on one local family.
Finally, on Friday, we'll be putting native knowledge to the test with questions from the recently-revised citizenship test.
Got a question about citizenship and immigration we didn't answer? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a question here.