VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
An Iraqi refugee's path to US citizenship
September 17, 2013 by Jordan Helton
|Bushra Naji holding her citizenship certificate. Photo: IRC|
On a Tuesday morning in a Brooklyn, N.Y., courthouse, dozens of new American citizens stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, each pronouncing the words with his or her unique accent but all reciting it perfectly from memory.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” says Iraqi refugee Bushra Naji. “It’s a dream come true to become a citizen. America is my home now.”
Naji joined in with other refugees and immigrants from around the world in a ceremony Sept. 10 to celebrate their new status and to mark the beginning of their new lives as U.S. citizens.
“It’s true that the dream for many is to go to America,” she says. “It’s the country of opportunity, and my family found everything here.”
For Naji, this moment was years in the making. As a refugee, she had to remain a permanent resident of the U.S. for at least five years, among other requirements, before submitting an application for citizenship.
Then came the hard part: studying for an oral exam that tests applicants’ knowledge of English and U.S. government and history. Naji made a perfect score.
“The woman who gave me the test told me, ‘Wow, you must have studied a lot,’” she says. “And I said, ‘Of course, this is the history of my country now.’”
Naji, her husband and four sons left Iraq in 2006 after two of her sons were targeted and threatened by a militia led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Her oldest son was shot in both legs during an attack on his neighborhood, and only escaped when the U.S. Army arrived to push the militia back. His younger brother was kidnapped by militants twice on the way to work.
“Only god saved them,” Naji says.
She and her family fled to Syria, where they lived in a small apartment in Damascus. Two years later, they learned they had been accepted to resettle as refugees in the U.S.
“I still remember when they informed us that we were going to America,” she says. “It was a big surprise. It opened a door for the future.”
Now, Naji works part-time at the same organization that resettled her family: the International Rescue Committee. Every day she calls people who have made donations, thanking them for their contributions to an organization that helped give her and her family a safe and fulfilling new life.
“I consider the IRC to be my family,” she says. “I found myself here. I am happy.”
Her husband and sons share in that happiness, too. With her youngest son’s citizenship ceremony coming up in only a few weeks, all six of them will be U.S. citizens.
“I tell my family, we were born in 2008 when we arrived in the U.S.,” Naji says. “Don’t tell me I’m 50-something. No, I’m only five years old.”
Our volunteers play an integral role in the International Rescue Committee's efforts to restore safety, dignity, and hope to people whose lives have been uprooted by war and disaster.
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