Today, I walked out of my office to the commotion of excited voices and words of congratulations and thanks. The few members of our office were crowded around two very proud and well-dressed men, one of whom had a small American Flag tucked into his sport jacket. In each of their hands was a crisp certificate that they excitedly showed me as we shook hands. These two men were new United States citizens.
The mundane question-and-answer sessions I’ve grown so accustomed to hearing came swimming back to me:
“…Name one war the United States fought in the 1800s.”
“…Name one thing that Benjamin Franklin is most famous for.”
“…Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?”
They finally made it! One man only received citizenship on his third try after months of citizenship classes and over 100 hours of tutoring, after being laid off from his job and re-hired multiple times, and after months of worrying this familiar face of East African Community Services was finally a US citizen. Both he and his friend were beaming, and so was I when I realized that EACS was the first place they went to show off their new citizenship status.
Being a citizen of the United States can mean so many things. After the two men rode their high out of the office, a fellow shiny-eyed employee told me that the first man had been one of her favorite clients. It had been his third try to obtain citizenship. He was having a hard time holding down his job without citizenship, and the stress had begun to wear on him. As a citizen he would be able to get a steadier job, and he could vote (registering to vote was the first thing he did as a US citizen). But perhaps most poignantly, he could now bring his wife from Ethiopia. She had been waiting for him for years.
The weight many of our refugee and immigrant clients experience is heavier than most Americans can know. But knowing that EACS plays such a fundamental role in helping them live happier, more successful lives is a source of hope.