June 24, 2019
Last Wednesday, June 19th, 2019, I became a US citizen. My journey to making this momentous commitment has been long and circuitous, and started 33 years ago.
In 1986 President Ronald Reagan made it possible for 2 million undocumented residents to obtain US citizenship. At the time I was applying for a US work permit through the required channels. I was shocked that it may have been easier for me if I was an “illegal alien!” However, I had the good fortune of winning the Green Card lottery. My Green Card was one of 10,000 granted that year and it never expired. That was the most valuable thing I could ever have won.
Having permanent rights of residency seemed to make obtaining full citizenship unnecessary but over the years I began to realize I was living “Mid-Atlantic” and I wanted to take that final step. My application process began in August of last year through an online submission that was surprisingly straight forward. Over the last month the pace quickened. I was summoned for a final interview where I had to pass a civics test. I genuinely enjoyed learning more about US history and our Constitution. Fortunately, I was not tested for my command of the English language!
My Naturalization Ceremony took place at the US Customs and Immigration Services Office here in Atlanta, alongside 125 or so other participants from over 50 different nations. It was not a grand affair. The guest speaker was a local immigration official who spoke in broken English about our new rights and responsibilities. He asked us to stand as he read out each country represented. In unison, we took the Oath of Allegiance, sang the National Anthem, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. After a brief welcome video from the President, and a moving rendition of God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood, it was over.
We had a small celebration at the office afterwards where someone asked whether it was an emotional occasion. In responding I could not help but talk of my parents’ escape from Nazi Germany to England in the late 1930s. My parents came from prominent banking families, and they lost everything. My siblings and I were raised to be more British than the British. We were given the very best education, but post-war England was still a very class-conscious society. No matter how hard my parents tried, they still had a German accent. Despite our family’s efforts to blend, I always felt we were “outsiders.”
In my freshman year in college I had an American roommate and I became friends with many of the American exchange students. That was the beginning of my love for America. The spirit of the country resonated and in 1983 I was finally able to come to Atlanta to fulfill my personal American dream. The rest is history.
I am deeply indebted to the people of this country who welcomed me with open arms and gave me opportunities I would never have had in Europe. I will be forever grateful for the incredible generosity of spirit I have been shown. This is now my home.