When I was 16, my family went out for a celebration dinner one night. We were celebrating the fact that my dad had just been sworn in as a U.S. citizen. Because of that, my brother and I—who were born in Monterrey, Mexico—also became U.S. citizens that day. So really, it was a celebration for our whole family. The 5 of us: American citizens. We even got our blue passports and didn’t have to wait in line for hours on end when coming back into the country after a trip abroad. I remember thinking that was the best thing about being a U.S. citizen. Since then, I’ve learned a lot more about citizenship, some of it through personal experiences and conversations, much of it through my job as the Citizenship Coordinator at World Relief DuPage.
One of the things I love about citizenship in the United States is that there are no “second class” citizens. Legally and civically, there is no difference between being born an American citizen (like two-fifths of my family) or becoming one through naturalization or derivation (like the other three-fifths of my family). Our American history is one of immigration, and one that rests on the idea that anyone can achieve whatever dream they want to if they’re willing to work for it.
Yet in discussions of potential immigration reform, there are voices denouncing the plan for an earned pathway towards citizenship. There are those who say, “We’ll give them some kind of status, but will create a ceiling so that no matter how hard they try, they will always be ‘second class.’” This tragic outlook directly opposes the beauty of our nation’s ideals and values. It is the beauty I see every time I attend an oath ceremony, where I look into a sea of people—each with their language, their culture, their story—and know in that moment that they are united in their love of this great country and pride in the hard work they did to get where they are today.
September 17th was Citizenship Day in the United States—an American federal observance that recognizes the adoption of the United States Constitution, as well as those who have become U.S. citizens. Through my job I’ve had the privilege of assisting hundreds of individuals in their citizenship process, and it gives me great joy every time I receive the news of a client receiving their American citizenship.
As a Christian, I know my real citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). And I yearn to be in my “heavenly country” (Hebrews 11:16) so greatly that my Mexican citizenship and my American citizenship pale in comparison. However, as a foreigner who was warmly welcomed by the people of this country, I know the importance of being given the opportunity to thrive while on this side of heaven. And just as there is now “no Gentile or Jew” under Christ (Colossians 3:11), there should not be a division within our citizenship laws in which individuals could never attain citizenship status despite their hard work. We must speak up to pass laws of justice and equality that will provide this opportunity to those who are willing to sacrifice and work for it.
On September 20th, just three days after Citizenship Day, I was honored to be present at the swearing in of a very special client. Ms. M, an 83-year old Turkish woman, is in such poor health that she was unable to make the trip to Chicago for the interview and oath required for naturalization. Working with the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), we were able to have an officer come to her home and administer a bedside oath, with her simply nodding in agreement, as she is mostly unable to speak. Afterwards, over an amazing spread of delicious food, her family members shared of their struggles as refugees, and the persecution they faced under an oppressive government. As I thought of my client’s journey to the point of naturalization, I thought of the many other personal stories to which I’ve been a witness over the past few years. These are individuals who have struggled and have overcome.
As an American citizen, and as a Christ-follower, I welcome these individuals to share in all that U.S. citizenship offers, just as my family was welcomed so many years ago. It is my hope and prayer that those who claim citizenship of the United States and of God’s kingdom will join me and do the same.
Ximena Roth is the Citizenship Coordinator at World Relief DuPage, where she assists lawful permanent residents in applying for citizenship with the help of volunteers and church partners. Originally from Mexico and having grown up in Miami, she feels she truly did not live in the United States until moving to the Midwest, and has been stretched culturally even within her marriage to Andrew Roth of German-Swedish descent. Ximena believes that people groups can be reconciled to one another through the power of Christ, compassion, and food.
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