By John P. Rattigan

On August 31st, 3,414 Massachusetts residents became citizens of the US in one of the largest naturalization ceremonies to date in New England. This day marked the end of a long journey for each of these new Americans who traveled here from the four corners of the earth in pursuit of their dreams.

Not among these new citizens were many whose journey, begun long ago, is not yet over. I’m referring to those permanent residents or green card holders who, although eligible, are still reluctant to take the final step toward naturalization. Their reasons are many.

Perhaps their English is not yet good enough to meet the required standard. Maybe they fear the series of questions they must answer about US history and civics. It might be that they don’t have the $680 application fee to begin the process. These are always legitimate reasons.

And then there are those who are just plain comfortable remaining permanent residents and renewing their green cards every ten years. In the past year, I became acquainted with two immigrants from Ireland who have been here for over 40 and 50 years, respectively, who have chosen to maintain their alien status despite the fact that they have lived in the US twice as long as they have lived in Ireland.

Like them, some have spent their entire working careers in America, have married here, raised families and in all likelihood, will be buried here. For them I suspect that the real reason may lie deeper, perhaps born of a feeling that by taking an oath of allegiance to a foreign nation, they are severing the last tie to their ancestral homeland. From a practical standpoint, this is not an issue, since US naturalization does not alter the status of one’s Irish citizenship, nor affect the right to retain an Irish passport.

By continuing their status as permanent residents many individuals may perceive themselves as “outsiders”. This is perfectly understandable because much is denied to them. They will always be subject to the ever-changing will of a security-conscious Congress; the length of their travel outside the US is restricted; they must renew their green cards every ten years and immediately report any change of address.

They cannot seek public office, cannot easily sponsor a relative for admission to the US, nor take advantage of certain estate tax exemptions reserved for citizens. In some cases permanent residency may be revoked for criminal offenses, resulting in deportation. Also, foreign-born minor children of permanent residents who naturalize automatically derive US citizenship through their parents without any additional application fees – an opportunity which should not be overlooked.

The feeling of being an “outsider” is probably most acute around election time, for it is always a reminder that, once again, you have no say in how your life or your chosen country will be governed. Independence and the right to vote were long fought for in Ireland and every Irish man and Irish woman, no matter where they go, will always cherish the memory of these freedoms. But to remain alive and vibrant, this heritage must be exercised.

As persuasive as these arguments ought to be, sometimes they are not enough to tip the balance. Some immigrants just never wish to be one more ingredient in America’s “melting pot”. Of course, any decision about naturalization involves questioning one’s identity, a process which is personal to each of us and must be respected.

But if you find yourself in this quandary, maybe its time to make a conscious effort to revisit and reflect on the question once again, who knows? Maybe you’ll find that now is the right time to complete the personal journey you began so long ago.

If you think this is your “right” time, you are invited to attend a US Citizenship Workshop on Saturday September 17 at the IIIC to start the process. To register, call me at 617-542-7654 or email jrattigan@iicenter.org.

John Rattigan is the Citizenship Coordinator at the IIIC.