U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services welcomed new citizens at naturalization ceremonies across the country on the Fourth of July.
Minnie Smith and Evelyn Villagrana, new U.S. citizens, talk about the experience. Marianna Paredes, Community Relations Officer for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, discusses the process of becoming a U.S. citizen.
José Cardenas: Thank you for joining us. I'm José Cardenas. The US citizenship and immigration service welcomed more than 24,000 citizens across the globe in naturalization ceremonies that started the last week of June and ended on Independence Day, July 4th. Here in Phoenix approximately 300 people became U.S. citizens at South Mountain Community College on Monday. With me to talk about their experience and the process to become a United States citizen is Minnie Smith and Evelyn Villgrana. Also here is Marianna Paredes, community relations officer for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Thank you all for joining us on "Horizonte." Marianna, let's start with you. We pointed out in the introduction that this was part of a basically a week-long process, a special celebration. Tell us a little bit more about.
Marianna Paredes: The celebration is run every year at South Mountain College. We have always been together with them doing this process to bring together to independence to July for naturalized, approximately around 200, 300 newly applicants. They have gone throughout naturalization process. To celebrate becoming citizens on the day of independence of this country.
José Cardenas: And similar celebrations across the country and indeed around the world.
Marianna Paredes: Yes, exactly. Other US offices run their citizenship ceremonies on either the Fourth of July or right before.
José Cardenas: That's not the only time of the year when these ceremonies take place.
Marianna Paredes: Normally these are special occasions that we do this. And we do do special ceremonies throughout the year. However, with the district 25 Phoenix, Arizona, office, we, every Friday, we have two ceremonies at the Federal courthouse that comprise about 100 applicants each. One in the morning and one in the afternoon.
José Cardenas: And what kind of efforts does your agency make to get people interested and involved in going through this process?
Marianna Paredes: My position as community relations officer is to meet with the community, community-based organizations, Federal, local, and state entities and talk with them about the process of becoming citizens, about immigration, any debunk any myths they may have and just to kind of facilitate in the knowledge of what it is that compromises becoming a citizen.
José Cardenas: I want to come back and talk about some of these but let me go to you, Minnie. You had been living in this country for some time before you decided to go through the process.
Minnie Smith: Yes. Too long. Too long. It took me to decide to do that.
José Cardenas: And why was that?
Minnie Smith: Well, there was a lot of things. It was my husband mainly, you know. He had it into his head it was going to affect his Canada pension and my Canada pension. It doesn't. But I couldn't convince him of that. I should have done it. I should have done it. But this year I decided, in January the 1st when I woke up I decided --
José Cardenas: Was that a picture you of you and your husband.
Minnie Smith: That's our 60th wedding anniversary two years ago.
José Cardenas: Congratulations. I take from it your accent you are not originally from Canada.
Minnie Smith: From Scotland.
José Cardenas: So you lived in Canada. Then you came to Arizona in the '70s?
Minnie Smith: This is our second immigration. We immigrated to Canada in 1954.
José Cardenas: What was the most important consideration for you in deciding to become a U.S. citizen?
Minnie Smith: Really to vote. Really the voting. That was my main reason. But I have always wanted to do it. I have always wanted to become a citizen. And I decided this year I was going to do it and we did it! Didn't we?
José Cardenas: Evelyn, as Minnie indicated, you were part of the ceremony this last time. Where are you from originally?
Evelyn Villagrana: I am from Sinaloa, Mexico.
José Cardenas: And what made you decide you wanted to become a citizen?
Evelyn Villagrana: I decide to become U.S. citizen because as my friend says, to vote and have more rights and the coming election in November, I want to vote.
José Cardenas: And you have been in this country for almost 20 years?
Evelyn Villagrana: Yes.
José Cardenas: Going through the various steps somebody has to go through. As I understand it, you decided to pursue process of becoming a citizen at the first chance you had.
Evelyn Villagrana: Yes. It takes time to become U.S. citizen because you have to go through a process. First you have to apply to become the legal resident, and then you have to apply to become U.S. citizen.
José Cardenas: And that's, what, about a 15, 20-year process total?
Evelyn Villagrana: It was almost 10 years.
José Cardenas: And was there anything about the process that surprised you, either because it was easier than you thought or harder perhaps?
Evelyn Villagrana: No. It was pretty quick. The process, it's really good, the process. I like it.
José Cardenas: Marianna, tell us about some of those myths you were referring to before.
Marianna Paredes: Well, for one, most people think that applications have to be, you have to pay to get an application. With our website, USCIS.gov, you get the application for free. Any application be it residency or citizenship. If you go to any website that puts themselves out to be a government-type website, a dot com or dot net. It is not our website, so I would be weary of those types of websites.
José Cardenas: You have the web address on the screen now.
Marianna Paredes: As well as a customer service number to call. Our office here as an info pass booth you can go to for any applicant who may have any questions as well in assistance in filling out applications, they can even physically come into our office and get an application.
José Cardenas: Minnie, I want to ask you and then I will ask you the same question. What did it feel like? You were becoming citizens on the Fourth of July.
Minnie Smith: Oh, just amazing. Amazing. It's just the most wonderful feeling. Isn't it?
Evelyn Villagrana: It is. It is amazing.
Minnie Smith: You cry and you laugh, know. I just waited so long to do it and I, we did it. My son did it. Kevin did it. Last month.
José Cardenas: And you have another son?
Minnie Smith: And another son, well, he did it the week before he graduated from University of Houston in engineering.
José Cardenas: He is now serving in Afghanistan?
Minnie Smith: No. That's my grand son. I have two sons, one and one is 51 and one is 46. And I have a grown grandson who is in Afghanistan right now.
José Cardenas: Of course, we all wish him well. Let me ask you a final question for this segmen, Evelyn. Your feelings about becoming a citizen on the birthday of the founding of this country.
Evelyn Villagrana: The independence day was a privilege to become U.S. citizen the day and I feel it's so special. And I believe all the new American citizens felt the same way.
José Cardenas: Thank you for coming on our show to share those experiences with us. Congratulations to both of you. Marianna, thank you for joining us.
Marianna Paredes: You are welcome.
Marianna Paredes: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Minnie Smith: new U.S. Citizen; Evelyn Villagrana: new U.S. Citizen;