Before he was president, Eisenhower was a general. What war was he in? What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803? What stops one branch of the U.S. government from becoming too powerful? How many amendments does the U.S. Constitution have?
These four questions seem innocuous but they can strike fear into the hearts of thousands. I’m not talking about high schoolers or even college students. These questions are just a few of the 100 possible questions an immigration examiner may ask a person who is applying for U.S. citizenship.
Before you can become a naturalized U.S. citizen, you first have to have lawful permanent residence (possess a “green card”) in the United States for several years; in most cases, five. Of the many other citizenship requirements, such as proving “good moral character” and attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution, each applicant must have sufficient knowledge of U.S. history and government as well as basic written and oral comprehension of the English language.
Throughout the entire process, from filling out the application to the final swearing in phase, my clients worry. Their concerns vary but most are afraid that they do not know enough English or will forget the answers to the civics questions. They have years to prepare, and I strongly encourage each and every client from the moment they obtain their green card to remember and calendar the date in which they will be eligible for naturalization. Almost all of them share a smile and tell me they will definitely apply and start preparing for the exam. But there are significant hurdles.
I try to take some of the stress and anxiety out of the process by offering them the chance to go through a mock naturalization exam, to show them where their weaknesses are so they may better prepare for the real exam a few months down the road.
One of our clients recently attended her naturalization interview. After submitting her application packet, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and started undergoing chemotherapy. She was concerned about answering the civics questions correctly because despite all of her hard work studying, the chemotherapy was affecting her memory.
Upon seeing her condition, the officer was very compassionate and patient when asking all of the questions. She passed with flying colors! After the officer gave her the letter stating that she was recommended for approval, she walked out of the office and broke down in tears. She could not believe that her dream of becoming a U.S. citizen was finally coming true.
Most of my clients want to be a part of the American system, vote, get a U.S. passport, and live the rest of their lives in the United States. Some want to petition for their parents and siblings, despite wait times stretching decades in some categories. But the reason I hear most often, as my clients study hard for their citizenship test, is that they want to naturalize because they love this country and wish to continue to contribute to the growth of the place that has given them freedom – whether freedom from want due to success in business, freedom from fear of persecution, or the freedom to reunite with family. They want to be able to call the United States their permanent home as citizens.
Written by Alma Rosa Nieto, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee
AILA members – Citizenship Day turns 10 this year and is coming up next month! AILA offers tools and resources to help you and your chapter put on a great event – check out http://www.aila.org/citizenshipday for more information.