Becoming a US Citizen

On the morning of March 27th 2017, I became a US citizen, marking the end of a three-year period of applications, biometrics appointments, interviews and evidence gathering.

I have seen very many posts on the web from people asking what happens at a swearing in ceremony. I decided to add my experience to the pool of answers that are out there because maybe somebody else will find it helpful, and I also want to remember this particular day of my life.

My swearing in ceremony was at the USCIS office in Chicago, a 20 minute walk from my house. We arrived about half an hour early and found ourselves swept into a streamlined, but still very moving, process.

As we arrived in the waiting area, Jen and I were separated by a very, very efficient USCIS officer: I ws placed with the 118 other new citizens in one block of seating, and Jen was moved to sit with the friends and family in another set of seating. As 9 o’clock rolled around, USCIS started calling the new citizens forward, row by row, checking that they had filled in their paperwork correctly, and then sending them forward to another line. This line led to a table where one USCIS officer took your green card, a second one checked your paperwork and then a third one handed you a card with a number on it (I was 56). With that number you are admitted to the auditorium where the ceremony takes place.

After some waiting, friends and family are allowed in to the other side of the auditorium and the ceremony begins. First with a factual speech (remember: your naturalization certificate wont get you back into the country, you need a passport), then a video titled “Faces of America”. The officer on stage then said “now we’re going to sing the national anthem”. A recording started playing, but I don’t think anybody was really confident enough to sing along, so there was plenty of mumbling (including from myself). I have never put my hand on my heart during a national antherm before, but this felt like an opportune time to start doing so. I felt a little silly doing that, especially because nobody around me did so. That said, I was feeling some pride and why not run with it?

Following the anthem, another officer gave a speech about the importance of citizenship, about America being a welcoming and tolerant place. There was one part of it that hit me right in the stomach:

This is the end of your journey as immigrants, and the start of your new journey as citizens in a new home.

Around about here I started to get very emotional. I haven’t lived in a country where I can say that I’m a native for around 10 years, and despite never having really struggled or felt like I was going to get removed from the country, the idea that it is “home” now felt like a huge weight off my shoulders and I felt a huge sense of relief. I can only imagine how the others in the audience, for whom America is a refuge, felt at hearing this.

I remember when I got married, we did the ceremony in the basement of a courthouse, we lined up with dozens of other couples – people from all over the world, happy just to be together – and it was a very moving experience for me. It felt like America was doing it right: Diverse and accepting. The citizenship ceremony evoked the same feeling in me. At this point in the proceedings, the officers started calling out nationalities, and as they did, the immigrants from each country stood up. Among 119 new citizens, 40 different nationalities were represented. After everybody was standing, we commenced the Oath of Allegience.

I did not expect it, but I found it very difficult to say the words of the oath of allegience. Particularly around this passage:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution

My voice cracked a number of times because everything felt real in a more concrete way than it had in the past. It was really driven home to me that America is my home, I belong here, and I believe in it. It was an overwhelmingly positive feeling, and one that I did not expect to be taken by so strongly. It was around here that I regretted not having taken tissues into the auditorium.

With all of the oathing and alleiging out of the way, it was time to distribute certificates, and I learned why they were being so precise with the seating arrangements, moving people row by row, keeping us in order. Each row was summoned forward and everybody, in order, shook the hand of the USCIS officer and received their certificate. It’s a not entirely trivial logistical task to over 100 certificated in order and shepherd so many people around, but it went off without a hitch.

And like that, it was done. I am a citizen of a new country. Jen snapped some pictures of me posing with my certificate on the stage, and we left and got breakfast.

Becoming a permanent resident, and then a citizen, was a long and sometimes tiring process. I saw my USCIS file in my final interview and it was fully 5 inches thick, packed with FBI background checks, proof that my marriage was genuine, biographical details on my family and much, much more. Despite the process being long and hard I was treated in a friendly and courteous manner at every step and I am genuinely proud to be an American.

Thanks, America.

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