Today my husband received phone and text messages wishing him a Happy 4th of July. We all get these, but his are especially meaningful as this is his first as an American citizen.
I got the call from Luis in Atlanta almost three weeks ago late on a Monday morning: “Your husband is an American citizen,” he told me.
“Ya? Already? That’s it?”
I’m not sure why I said that, as if it had a been a quick, casual sort of thing. Married to me, an American, Luis was allowed to apply for naturalization three years after becoming a permanent resident in 2006 (if not married to a citizen, it’s a five-year wait period), but time slipped as it does and we hadn’t done anything about it.
With a Greencard set to expire in 2016, it was time. We filed paperwork a few months ago and with a set date for an appointment, Luis had his nose buried in a study guide given to him by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) most of the week prior. The naturalization process includes an interview and exam made of three components: reading, writing and speaking. There are 100 civics questions to study, covering U.S. government and history topics, and applicants are required to answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly to be eligible for citizenship. They also have to be at least 18 years old, in good, legal standing and swear to take an Oath of Allegiance to this country.
The U.S. continues as the top destination for immigrants in the world and is home to about 20 percent of all, according to the Migration Policy Institute. As of 2012, the total U.S. population was 313.9 million and immigrants made up almost 13 percent of the figure, hitting a historical record of 41 million individuals. Of the immigrant pie piece, 46 percent reported to be of Hispanic or Latino heritage.
Naturalization numbers continue to grow with roughly 700,000 inducted yearly, but not everyone makes it the first go round.
As Luis waited his turn, a fellow Cuban left the exam room crying. The tall, stern man who had just completed her interview stepped out and called for Luis.
He stood and followed the officer down a hallway and into a room with a desk, behind which sat the man and an immigration officer-in-training. Luis was asked to sit in the chair just opposite them.
It was a pin-drop kind of tense.
The pressure of passing or failing is quiet, but fierce. It’s not something you even want to talk about. There was no reason to think Luis wouldn’t pass, or at worst, renew his permanent residency, but somewhere deep within both of us, hiding behind three children, a home, a business, our entire life together, is the fear of what if? It’s illogical, but what if, for some crazy, off-the-cuff reason, the U.S. were to deny him? I don’t even have space in my mind for that option.
The thin-lipped officer who spoke fast, pursed and decidedly Southern, made small talk with Luis, based on notes in hand, asking about family and work in what was presumably a basic English test.
He moved to study guide questions and unlike other interviews, which ran about 15 minutes, this one pushed 50. And there weren’t 10 questions, but 101, in both written and oral formats.
When the test ended the official looked Luis in the eye and smiled.
He’d aced it. The officer told Luis he usually shakes hands with an applicant who passes, but he was giving Luis a hug and came around the desk to do so. It was the first time in 27 years an applicant had answered all of the questions 100 percent correctly.
Chills. I darn near cried a river.
It wasn’t a case of simple smarts, as much as it was connection. Luis didn’t just study, he absorbed the Constitution and identified with the first round of immigrants who came here to move forward.
Happy 4th of July!