Becoming a U.S. citizen means a long waiting game and in that time, immigrants can't work and often struggle with legal fees. Alabama immigrants are not limited to Hispanic families, plus, many struggling with the process have spent their entire lives here. We spoke with a newlywed couple: he's from Egypt, she's from Shelby County. They gave us a little insight into what trying to become a citizen is like.
Katie and Sadek's love story started as many do...
"I met this friend and he knew of her because he went to school with her and lived in the same complex so he said, hey why don't we go down and meet this girl," Sadek Akl, who is trying to become a citizen said.
But their dreams of finishing college had to be put on hold. At the age of 6, Sadek's family moved to Tuscaloosa from Egypt. Since then, he's been waiting on a green card. His lack of citizenship kept him from being able to receive a college scholarship, hold a job, or drive a car - privileges his siblings - who were born here enjoy.
"There have been times where I have been jealous of my siblings because they do have all these rights that I have never had access to," Akl said.
Katie and Sadek married one year ago and it's up to her to make ends meet.
"I'm gone most of the time away from him, but it's showed us that if we can make it through now, and we have no money and we're this happy - just wait until we have that much more," Katie Martin, his wife, said.
"Now it makes it more difficult even if they want to do it the right way, to get legalized," Dagmar Rick, an immigration attorney said.
Immigration attorney, Dagmar Rick says it takes about a year for adjustment of status, then applicants must hold a green card for three years before they can apply for full citizenship. The cost to file for citizenship and pay legal fees runs around $5,000 - money many don't have and the reason many never file.
"Really a big problem in Alabama, we have people who are legally in the country, they get work permits issued by Homeland Security, but Alabama will not give them a drivers license," Rick said. "So these people can work, they can go to school, but they are not allowed to drive."
"It's been so long," Akl said. "I've had my whole life here to think about what I'm going to do when I finally get this taken care of and it's just being held off."
Another new change was announced this week - the "deferred action for childhood arrivals" is allowing children to apply for the right to stay in the country and get work permits, keeping them from being deported.