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USA the Right Way

Fraser Smith

The new, immigrant blood that has always made this country stronger flows with undiminished power at Maryland's citizenship center in southwest Baltimore.  Fraser Smith reports.  

They don't hear the posturing and the bickering. They don’t worry about the politics. They're on the way to US citizenship. Everything else is white noise or static.

Even as U.S. political leaders try to score points one way or another on the immigration issue, the immigrants themselves don’t listen. They concentrate on checking the right boxes on the innumerable forms. And their U.S. history lessons. They just want to keep track of their Green Card, the document that makes them "legal" until they become citizens.

It takes them five to six years from start to finish unless they’re married to a U.S. citizen. Then it’s three. If you talk to those who make it you get the feeling they would spend 10 years en route if that’s what it took. They're in the pipeline. They’re going to make it. How proud and relieved they are when the goal is reached and they can throw away the Green Card.

This happens almost every day at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Center in southwest Baltimore.

"I'm so happy," said Juliana Ezeadi who came to the U.S. more than five years ago from Nigeria. "It's all over," she said.  But it's just beginning as well, right? "Yes.  It's good but the hard work is over."

She's there at the center with her husband, Louis, not yet a citizen, and her daughter, Jennifer, who has been in the U.S for a decade. Jennifer lived first in Silver Spring.  She became a hospital intubation aide. She has four children all of whom were at the ceremony.  The family lives now in Frederick.

Jennifer's 62-year-old mother’s relief reflects the long and sometimes arduous path she has just completed. Arduous for good reason, some say. There’s a lot to learn.

Ezeadi spoke English when she arrived in the U.S., but for others learning that confounding language is part of the citizenship process.

Mrs. Ezeadi was among 69 new citizens sworn in recently at the citizenship center on Koppers Street. About the same number of new Americans take the oath at ceremonies there every day. As many as 20,000 new citizens come through the Baltimore center every year, says Gregory Collett, the service's district director. There's been no drop-off. "It’s a comfortable pace. We’re very professional and expert at this," he said.

He urges newcomers to learn the citizenship requirements. Unauthorized approaches can delay the process – or worse. As for the length and difficulty of qualifying, it’s part of the relatively low price of citizenship.

"I think it’s important," said Janet Jefford, national president of the American Legion’s Auxiliary. "Before you become a citizen you really have to understand a little about the culture and the duties and responsibilities that you have as a citizen." She spoke at Juliana Ezeadi’s ceremony.

Many have made this journey, Jefford said. Her grandparents “didn’t even have a high school diploma” when they came to this country. But their children went to high school and "all of their grandchildren are college graduates."

"That says a lot," she said.

Like everyone who attends these ceremonies, Jefford felt the emotion in the room.  People stood quietly in line, seeming to hold their breath until the certificate of citizenship was in their hands. Many carried small American flags.

They persevere for myriad reasons; political freedom, personal safety, a brighter future for their children and grandchildren, or a job. Mrs. Ezeadi will be taking care of her four grandchildren. “Four of them,” she said, "so I have a very big job…It’s a joy but you have to work hard."

She seems up to the challenge.