Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A big day at the Colorado Convention Center

For those of you unaware of, or not up to date on my immigration status, today has been a very emotional day for me. I became an American citizen in a very special naturalization oath ceremony. I make it a point to say it was special, because it was apparently the first and perhaps the only time the state of Colorado will host such a large naturalization ceremony, involving some 1,800 persons from 120 countries at the Colorado Convention Center.

This day has been a long time coming.

I originally applied for citizenship back in August of 2004, just three months before my green card was set to expire. I submitted fingerprints, completed an interview with immigration, and even passed the citizenship test with flying colors by November of that same year, only to be shuffled to the bottom of an endless pile of citizenship requests. I spent four years in limbo, way outside of the processing time frame stipulated by USCIS (the new and improved name for INS). Just an FYI, the time frame is 180 days, total.

Anyway, during the four years in limbo, I'd call every six months or so and get the same answer... that my case is pending FBI background checks. Meanwhile I'm hearing about people getting their citizenship finalized within the 180-day time frame, while people in the same boat as me were making waves by taking their cases to lawyers who demanded that the USCIS get moving on the incredibly delayed FBI background checks. Several newspapers were reporting on the subject, and I read most of them. I was beginning to not feel too bad, and let my patience take care of my frustration. I used writing as an outlet, and gained great feedback and relief.

During all of this, of course, I had to keep going back ever so often to renew my green card extension, which was stamped into my Iraqi passport. I was able to travel with this extension, so though my green card had expired back in 2004, I was still using it to its full capacity in 2008, thanks to the extension.

Even though I had passed my citizenship test and done everything required, I was beginning to lose hope, and all but gave up on getting an answer at all. I was happy enough just renewing my green card extension with a simple stamp. I was happy, and USCIS was happy. It worked.

Then one day, things got a big push forward. I don't know what triggered it, but the FBI must've dug my case out from under the pile and thought: "She's waited long enough. Let's have mercy on her and conduct that pesky little background check." I got a letter requesting I go in for a second session of fingerprinting. I went in to get that done back in April. By mid-May, I got a letter stating that my citizenship request had been approved, and to wait for an oath ceremony notice in the 30-90 days. I was happy just with that, and expected the longest possible wait of 90 days to hear about my oath ceremony. And finally, the oath ceremony notice arrived. It hadn't even been 30 days since I got the approval letter... I was ecstatic. I told my family and closest friends about the big day.

Now the big day has come and gone, and I have no idea how I'm supposed to feel. Writing is an outlet of feelings and thoughts for me, but I still can't express the mix of emotions inside of me right now. Maybe it's because I'm tired, or maybe because I'm still a little in shock from how fast everything happened... it was like bam bam bam!

I'm now an American citizen.

Am I happy? Yeah. Am I sad? Yeah. How did I expect to feel? I don't know.

That's about all I can say about my feelings at this time. I wanted to blog about it to let everyone know about my news, but a more formal piece describing the experience in more detail will have to wait until I get my feelings sorted out. Right now I'm running on almost no sleep, and "What just happened?" mode.

1 comment:

Elisabeth said...

Oh my gosh Reem, congrats! This has been a long time coming! I was thinking they'd never come through for you at all too. Wow, what a relief for it to actually be over.

I have a small sense of the confusion you may be going through because of what my mom told me of her experience with the process. Hers was expedited thanks to her marriage to my dad, so she didn't have those frustrations, but she did have some mixed feelings when she was essentially asked to give up her previous nationality (i.e. to some extent her culture) in order to embrace her new one. This was in the 70s mind you, so the attitude may have changed, I don't know, but people acted with her like this must have been a big moment in her life, that she must be really happy and proud to become an American citizen -- could there be anything better? Her motivations for getting the citizenship were a little different -- she didn't need it to stay in the US, she did it (so she tells me) so that if my dad ever left her, he couldn't take me from her.

For you, I know, it makes things slightly less complicated for you to conduct your life in what is now your home, and it affords you more options for travel and such. But I wonder what else it means to you and I look forward to your more formal writing on the topic.