Guest columnist Tahmina Watson is an immigration lawyer who has helped numerous people file petitions to become U.S. citizens. A British citizen, she began her naturalization process after her daughter was born, only to be surprised at what a profound experience it was for her.
ON Oct. 13, I became a naturalized citizen of the United States, achieving “the American dream” I didn’t realize I had.
As an immigration attorney, I have helped numerous people pursue this same dream, preparing and filing petitions, guiding clients for interviews, researching issues, etc. Whether a simple or complicated case, my efforts are zealous. And, upon success of a petition, I swiftly send out a closing letter, and move on.
Despite the many successful petitions I have filed for others, I never appreciated the deep significance of this event until that day.
I received my green card through marriage. When I became eligible to apply for naturalization, I was not inclined. I am British and couldn’t think of any good reason to become a U.S. citizen. But when our daughter was born, I realized it was important for me to have the same citizenship as my child.
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So it was decided — I was going to apply for naturalization. I just needed a little time to complete the forms. However, my blank form remained on my desk for months.
I finally enlisted the help of my paralegal, Silviya. I am embarrassed to admit that, like many of my clients, I failed to provide the required documents.
Eventually there were just passport photos missing. My daughter was 5 months old and I was just barely getting through each day, nursing, changing diapers and keeping my solo practice afloat. Plus, I was president of the King County chapter of Washington Women Lawyers.
As a new mother juggling competing priorities, having perfect hair was no longer important. I found many excuses not to take a photograph until Silviya demanded it. I had particularly greasy hair that day but grudgingly went to Walgreens just so we could file the petition.
We filed the petition like every other. In my mind, it was just another case. Just as I do for my clients, I received an email notification for my own biometrics appointment, which included fingerprinting for an FBI background check and photographing. Then the interview notice arrived. I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It was time to study for the test. I glanced at the questions, which looked easy enough, so I considered myself prepared. But I failed the mock test that my paralegal, Nicole, held for me! So I studied hard. Admittedly, some questions were difficult. Do you know who wrote the Federalist Papers?
I duly attended the interview at the Tukwila U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office. The interview has three distinct parts. The first part confirms information in the application, the N400 form. In the second part, the civics test, a computer randomly generates 10 of 100 possible questions. You must answer six of those questions correctly. The third is the English reading and writing test.
When the interview concluded, I heard the magical words I await for my clients: “Congratulations, you have passed.” I was invited to return for the oath ceremony later that day.
I called my husband about the good news. He wanted to attend the ceremony. I told him not to bother but he joined anyway.
While waiting for the ceremony, I started to get excited because I could finally cross off a major item on my to-do list.
I entered the room with about 80 other citizens-to-be and their guests. After the ceremonial welcome speech, a video began to play to the music of “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood. The lyrics of the song accompanied images of the forefathers, of war, of children waving the U.S. flag. Undoubtedly, America is a country of patriots who have gone above and beyond to create this great nation and protect their countrymen.
Reading the lyrics and watching the images, I slowly began to feel goose bumps. It dawned on me, that all my dreams — of having a wonderful husband and family, successful career, a lovely home and being happy — were all being realized in America.
I had never dreamed of becoming an American, but America made my dreams come true. It was at that moment that I could not hold back the happy and grateful tears. Right then, it felt like a rebirth. And I realized this was not a client’s case. This was my life.
When the ceremony ended and I had that certificate in my hand, I walked out of that room proud. I walked out a patriot.
Tahmina Watson is the founder of Watson Immigration Law, Seattle.