The Washington Post

I am now a U.S. citizen, but I feel less free than I ever have

- BY AADITI LELE Aaditi Lele is a rising sophomore at Vanderbilt University, where she is a Rachel Carson Council fellow and news editor of the school paper, the Vanderbilt Hustler.

Less than two months ago, I took the oath of naturaliza­tion to become the first American citizen in my family. I watched as new Americans from dozens of countries stood together, speaking in unison of our commitment to “support and defend the Constituti­on and laws of the United States.” But in the wake of multiple decisions by a Supreme Court that seems intent on rolling back Americans’ liberties, I’m left wondering what warped interpreta­tion of the Constituti­on I’ve committed to defend.

From the day my family moved from Pune, India, to the United States a decade ago, when I was 8 years old, I’ve been bombarded with glorified images and slogans about the American Dream — “Land of the Free!” — and encouraged to embrace this nation’s ideals. I came to believe this messaging. The idea that pursuing citizenshi­p would help me secure my rights was not lost on me, so I did exactly that.

I thought that becoming a citizen would protect me. It would ensure my right to vote, to run for office, to be shielded from deportatio­n. But now, I feel more vulnerable and less free than I ever have before.

In its most recent term, the Supreme Court stripped my right to access abortion, weakened the separation of church and state, impaired the federal government’s ability to fight the climate crisis, diminished protection­s against firearms, and fortified protection­s for Border Patrol agents accused of misconduct.

To me, these are all breaches of my new nation’s promises.

As a young woman attending college in Tennessee, I’m terrified by the court’s rescinding of abortion protection­s in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizati­on. College campuses have some of the highest rates of sexual violence in the country. Among female undergradu­ates, 26.4 percent experience sexual violence during college. Tennessee’s “trigger law” to restrict abortion access, slated to go into effect on Aug. 25, has no exceptions for cases of rape, incest or sexual violence against children. State law makes it a felony to mail abortion pills.

If I’m sexually assaulted and become pregnant, Tennessee gives me no choice but to follow through with a pregnancy for which I may not be financiall­y, emotionall­y or physically fit, and to give birth to a child I did not choose to conceive.

The court of course did not stop there. Its ruling in West Virginia v. EPA severely curtailed the federal government’s ability to fight the climate crisis, stating that the Environmen­tal Protection Agency could not impose emissions regulation­s on power plants without approval from Congress.

I’m one of the millions of young people who marched for climate justice during the 2019 global strikes. For my generation, which has been told that solving this crisis will fall on our shoulders, the implicatio­ns of this decision are especially alarming.

Then there is the court’s neglect to protect us from the gun violence epidemic. In New York State Rifle & Pistol Associatio­n v. Bruen, the court struck down a New York law requiring individual­s to show “proper cause” before they can be licensed to carry a concealed weapon. I was brought to the United States under the assumption that it would be a place of safety and refuge. Now I’m more scared than ever for my 14-year-old sister and her classmates, who will enter the next academic year during a period in which the rate of mass shootings is at a historic high.

Finally, I became a citizen partly to escape the stress of navigating the U.S. immigratio­n system. The court’s ruling in the Border Patrol case, Egbert v. Boule — which effectivel­y grants officers immunity from lawsuits seeking to hold them accountabl­e for alleged misbehavio­r within a 100-mile zone of the U.S. border — causes further anxiety.

Citizenshi­p is often sold with the promise that it will insulate people from persecutio­n by the immigratio­n system. But many immigrant children grow up petrified of making any misstep that could trigger expulsion. For our families, the looming threat of a Border Patrol force that might operate beyond the law is terrifying.

I can’t help witnessing all this and believing that the dream I was sold doesn’t exist — that this country is setting itself up to fail me and so many others.

To live up to its promise, the United States needs strong institutio­nal reforms to secure our rights, whether that means expanding the Supreme Court, adopting ranked-choice voting or implementi­ng any of the many other reforms proposed by defenders of democracy.

I’m new to this. I swore an oath to the United States because I believed I was taking part in something I could be proud of and defend. Despite the Supreme Court’s actions, I remain committed to fighting to make this country a better place — one that protects us all. I’m simply asking that, in return, the country not forget its commitment­s to me.

 ?? FATINHA RAMOS FOR THE WASHINGTON POST ??
FATINHA RAMOS FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

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