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Occasionally, where I know my work has “made a difference” in a client’s life and he or she would like me to, I attend the client’s Naturalization Ceremony in Newark, New Jersey. The formal Oath Ceremony is the final step in an immigrant’s journey to naturalization, and without it, one is not a U.S. Citizen, no matter how many background checks, language, and civics tests one passes on the road.

The Newark District of USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) is that rare venue where it is possible to become a citizen the day one undergoes the naturalization “examination” and passes the tests. In the case of this client, a female Pakistani Christian, it appeared we were “home free” the day of the examination because she received the final Oath Ceremony documentation to fill out.

Then, most unusually, a somewhat flustered immigration officer came out to the waiting room and announced that there was “something else” they had to check before she could take the oath. So, no “same day service” in this case! We would get a request for one final document in the mail and would have to respond.

I should have known there would be something like this in her case. I had been representing this lady in various aspects of her immigration history for over a decade. She first came to me as a registered nurse whose work visa employer turned out not to be bona fide once she arrived in the U.S., so that she was “out of status” and put into removal (deportation) proceedings in Newark Immigration Court. But, she had married an American and thus was eligible to “adjust status” (apply for a green card) in immigration court, provided USCIS first approved her husband’s visa petition for her.

However, a case that appeared straightforward proved to be anything but that. Client confidentiality prevents me from going into all that happened, other than to say that after USCIS approved her husband’s visa petition, he suffered a lingering fatal illness, and she also had to deal with a near-fatal illness her son contracted back in Pakistan. These circumstances created a chain of events that made my client’s case far more difficult and that added years to the process of her becoming a permanent resident.

Once my client achieved permanent resident status, she filed a petition for her son (yes, he recovered from his illness), and thatalso took much longer than the normal processing of such a case. In time, both USCIS and the State Dept. approved his case, and he joined his mother in America.

After five years as a permanent resident, my client applied for citizenship. I wondered how USCIS would react to her very unusual history, but all seemed well until the officer came out to the waiting room, demanding to see that one additional document.

We did get it, but it proved to be another lengthy hassle. Throughout, my client’s dedication to her new country and desire to become an American was an inspiration to me. After more months of waiting, it was just this past week that she finally became a citizen.

I want to close with a couple of comments on the Oath Ceremony itself, which are appropriate during this shameful period in our history when the current Administration is waging a literal war on immigrants and foreign citizens seeking refuge in our country. You know, the people mentioned on the wall in the Oath Ceremony Room in Newark, New Jersey, next to my client as she celebrates the conclusion of her long quest for citizenship.

First, the ceremony my client attended did not conclude with video remarks from our President welcoming the new citizens to the United States as full participants in our polity. That is just as well. I saw that video at the prior ceremony I attended. The irony was overwhelming.

Second, this ceremony had an element I do not remember from the last one. The moderator asked all the future citizens who were seated to stand once she called the names of their countries of origin. It was inspiring to hear the long list of foreign countries announced one by one and to see the future citizens stand as their countries of origin were called.

In my view, no one who claims to believe in the values this Nation stands for can honestly do so while rejecting the essential truth that the one thing which makes America great is that we are “A Nation of Immigrants.”

Brian O’Neill,

Immigration Attorney in Morristown, NJ

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