The Sense of Belonging

When Ann appeared for her citizenship interview and exam before U.S. Immigration in early September, she knew she had to get it right. She was from the Bahamas and five days before taking her exams, Hurricane Dorian flattened the house where she had lived, leaving friends and family members dead or missing. “I had nothing to go back to. All I had was the American Dream.”

Ann had joined her husband in the United States in 2012 on a green card. They lived happily in South Florida where they enjoyed a home with a white picket fence, wonderful neighbors, and a loving dog. Her husband worked while she took care of the household and day-to-day obligations. In 2014, however, she suddenly and unexpectantly lost her eyesight. Ann recounted, “For all the years that we had been together, I saw a different side. He started drinking and drugging again, and there was domestic violence.”

Later that year while she herself was learning to live with a visual impairment, Ann took her dog, the clothes on her back, and left her husband, her home, and all her friends. She moved to Winston-Salem to take a job at Industries of the Blind and then moved to Greensboro a year later. Greensboro quickly became home, but she knew that her green card would soon expire. She had to plan for the future.

She came to CWSG to fill out an application for naturalization over a year ago. “At that time, I was so afraid of immigration, and I thought to myself, ‘I can’t do this.’ There was so much going on politically, and I was from an island that nobody knows. So I got cold feet and chickened out.” She didn’t file the application. She thought maybe she would just reapply for another green card when her time came.

Almost a year went by before she found the courage to try again. “I said to myself, ‘I better get this done. It is so important—I wanted the sense of belonging and the sense of achievement.’” She came back to CWSG, and the immigration attorney Elizabeth DeFrance helped her complete the application once more. “She assured me that she would file the application and whatever correspondence that came to her would come to me. I needed that type of service. Being visually impaired since 2014, I needed someone with a good pair of eyes to watch over me in the process.”

Application submitted, Ann took the next few months to study and prepare for the naturalization exam. She attended citizenship class every Saturday to practice the interview and go over the 100 civic questions that immigrants must know pass the citizenship exam. A month after she went and provided biometric data to Immigration, she received a letter notifying her of her upcoming exam date. “Oh my God, Oh my God. Now I started listening to the tapes every day. Now I’m really pounding it in. Now I’m really going all out. This is no dress rehearsal, this is the real deal.”

Although she was very nervous the day of the exam, her examiner was extremely gracious. He was kind and accommodating of her vision needs and made her feel comfortable. Ann recalled, “He said, ‘I’m going to ask you 10 questions out of the 100 that you studied. Once I get to the 6th answered correctly, I am going to stop.’” He only had to ask Ann 6 questions. She knew them all. The examiner congratulated her and said, “You passed everything!”

On October 22, 2019, Ann took her oath alongside 86 other immigrants naturalizing as U.S. citizens. She was the first to arrive at the building the day. She was the first person whose name was called, and she was the first to get her certificate of U.S. citizenship. “The excitement had taken over. It’s life-changing, almost like being born again.”

A few years before, Ann had to leave her job at Industries of the Blind to return to the Bahamas to care for her son, who was very sick at the time. Currently she is working with a vocational rehab mentor to help her transition to new job opportunities in the wake of losing her eyesight. Now that she is a citizen, she is excited about accessing vocational resources and opportunities that were not available to her as a green card holder.

Ann was grateful for Elizabeth’s support throughout the process. “I would not have made it without her. She gave me the courage. She explained how everything works. I thought, ‘Here is this wonderful attorney who is willing to assist me. There is no way I’m going to let her down. I’m not going to let myself down, and I’m not going to let her down.”

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