“For 27 years, we have been living in the shadows,” said Rafael Santos Junior. “This took a long, long time.”
Santos and his parents, Rosa and Rafael Santos Senior, were among 12 new United States citizens who received their certificates at a ceremony in the Faulkner Gallery at the Santa Barbara Central Library on Saturday. This was the third consecutive year Rep. Salud Carbajal held the ceremony to celebrate new citizens. The ceremony was in Spanish and translated into English by Alma Medina.
“We tried to apply as soon as we could, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, people can take advantage of you,” Rosa Santos said after the ceremony. She said the family applied for their citizenships about 10 years ago, although they had been living in Oxnard for nearly 30 years after immigrating from San Martin, Mexico. Her daughter, who wasn’t present at the ceremony, also became a citizen with her parents and brother.
The family’s road to obtaining citizenship was arduous at times, and one of the biggest hurdles they scaled was getting scammed by someone posing as an immigration attorney. They lost about $5,000 paying for nonexistent legal fees because they believed the person would help them obtain citizenship. “The problem for most immigrants is a lack of knowledge,” Santos Jr. said. “Many people just don’t know what steps to take to get here.”
Carbajal, who is an immigrant himself, told the new citizens and their loved ones in the audience the importance of just that — knowledge and education. Carbajal came to the United States from Mexico at 5 years old. He was the youngest and last of his seven siblings to come to the states through the Bracero Program, which allowed agricultural workers like his father to enter the U.S. legally for work. “I couldn’t be a congressman if I didn’t become a citizen first,” Carbajal told the audience. “The educational opportunities I had in this country opened the doors for me. Encourage our kids to go to school.”
He also emphasized the importance of being involved and civically engaged citizens. He encouraged the 12 new citizens to register to vote if they haven’t already, and explained some differences between the Republican, Democratic, and Independent parties. “Make a list of what is important to you. Health care, business, whatever it is, and register for the party that matches those values,” Carbajal said. “Voting is the only way to make a difference. If you don’t vote, don’t complain.”
Carbajal also encouraged noncitizens in the audience to start that path so they can contribute, too. “We have seen in the current administration that even permanent residents can be deported. We now know the dangers of not being a citizen. If you aren’t, go and find the process,” he warned. Carbajal made several other references to Trump’s administration during his speech, and he told the new citizens that they have a responsibility now to make their voices heard. “The president is also an immigrant,” he said. “His wife is an immigrant. It seems like he is only okay with the immigrants who are not of color. … This is a country of immigrants. Your voices need to be heard.”
The ceremony lasted about an hour, and Carbajal ended it by letting the new citizens know they could register to vote at the booth directly outside the door. “We have security now,” Santos Jr. said about the biggest impact his citizenship has on his family. “We feel free.”