It was reported this week that nearly a million immigrant adults were naturalized as American citizens in the fiscal year 2022, the third-highest annual tally recorded in U.S. history. There is clearly an uplifting bounce to the news as there is never anything old or ‘what-ever’ when it comes to seeing the ideals of our nation put into practice.
When I heard this news, I thought of a woman who rented in our neighborhood and worked for a law firm that specialized in immigration law. I recall a conversation in which we agreed that many native-born Americans would have trouble passing a citizenship test, a required part of the naturalization process. She remarked she had never, not once, had a single client in her many years of practice fail that test. That underscores part of the reason why we have pride in the resolve and convictions of our new citizens.
This is more than just another news story. The accounts of new arrivals to our shores started catching my attention as a kid when reading history. The black and white photos of immigrants looking at the New York skyline compelled me to learn more about what they might have been thinking as they saw Lady Liberty. That desire to learn the stories of people who arrive on our shores, and want to be a part of America, has had ample avenues from which to be explored after I moved to Madison.
Over the years James and I became friends with people in the restaurant world, some of them sharing their stories and feelings about making this nation their home. One evening after a meal the owners of the establishment who came from Veitnam brought to the table a photo album that showed the overloaded and rickety type boats that left their homeland. Since I do not swim their brave undertaking took on a much more harrowing perspective. Upon arriving in Wisconsin not knowing the English language, and certainly not accustomed to Wisconsin winters they stayed focused on their goal. In a few decades, the family were business owners and employers, hiring others, paying taxes, and becoming citizens.
A lovely Jamaican couple needed assistance with the process of citizenship, and we placed them into the hands of a woman who worked for Senator Russ Feingold. I will never, ever, forget the beaming smile of the woman as we entered her restaurant many months later, informing us she and her husband were American citizens. Those photos from the books of my youth had come alive with vivid color and meaning.
James, being able to speak several languages, has assisted others in ways with government offices and companies that they were not able to do easily on their own. We helped, first and foremost, due to the fact the folks were genuinely nice people, just needing a bit of a helping hand, and we had the skills and resources that made a difference. We did not look at skin color or place of origin, but simply asked how we could help as Americans by working to extend that title to someone else.
Under the laws of this nation, most naturalized citizens gain citizenship after living in the U.S. as permanent residents for three or five years. Those who serve in the military can qualify for a faster and unique process at naturalization. Unlike permanent residents, immigrants with U.S. citizenship can vote in federal elections, obtain American passports, and sponsor family members to come to the U.S. through an expedited process. The top five countries of birth of immigrants who became naturalized U.S. citizens in 2022 were Mexico, India, the Philippines, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic.
Over the years, I have discovered through personal conversations that becoming an American citizen was one of the proudest accomplishments that these men and women had felt in their lives. What we take for granted, others strive for. Yearn for. Relish when achieved. Love of nation may sound hokey, but I know it is real for many who were born far away and now call this nation home. That is why I found the news about our new citizens so upbeat and refreshing.