MOUNT VERNON — Last year, in Ohio alone, 9,899 immigrants became naturalized citizens of the United States in Ohio, and each year the number steadily increases. Every month the U.S. District Court in Columbus holds four to six ceremonies, with about 55 immigrants present at each. Data provided by the regional district office shows that between 2007 and 2008 the number of immigrants applying for citizenship increased significantly.
Mount Vernon resident Shu Hui Hsiao, known locally as Suzie Emrys, was sworn in as a Taiwanese American citizen on Wednesday. She didn’t think she would be in America for five years, but started the process in November 2008 after doing research and gathering all of the necessary material to apply. It cost $675 to apply to become a citizen.
“It took almost no time, they worked really fast. [It] surprised me,” said Emrys.
Before beginning the naturalization process, Emrys consulted a Chinese lawyer on what she needed to do.
“You don’t need to ask a lawyer, [it] just happened that I asked a lawyer because I needed to get all types of documents,” said Emrys.
The lawyer really helped her understand what she had to have in order to apply.
“Before you file, you need to research everything you need because for everyone it’s different,” said Emrys. “For most people, you have to have lived here five years.”
After gathering the information, she submitted her application online through the Citizenship and Immigration Web site.
“Everything that comes after that, they send stuff to you in the mail,” said Emrys’ husband, Michael, adding that everything was sent to them in a step-by-step process to help guide them. “But for someone who has never done this before, maybe you need those steps to make sure that everything is in the right order. So the first step is to go in for a fingerprinting to prove who you are, and they tell you where you need to go in Columbus.”
After being fingerprinted, she was given a packet and a study guide for the written, oral and reading portions of the examination. The study guide included 100 questions about the U.S. government, history and society — questions that most Americans would know, but for someone not born in America, the study guide provides a basic foundation. Out of the 100 questions only 10 were actually asked during the test.
Suzie said she studied for many months to prepare for the test, and when she took it, she felt secure in her knowledge.
“[I was] prepared, [there was] no need to be nervous,” she said. “Some stuff I [already knew].”
However, she didn’t just memorize the questions and answers, she read through and studied all of the in-depth history given to her in the guide by reading, listening to the information — which was read out loud by her husband — and rewriting what she studied.
“The interview officer was so glad [that] my application was so neat,” said Emrys.
Finally, after five months of waiting, on Wednesday, March 25, she took her oath and was sworn in as a citizen of the United States of America.
For years, she said, she never really thought about becoming a citizen, but last year with the presidential election, she wanted to be able to cast her vote.
“Last year I could not vote, and I was this close to voting,” said Suzie. “I need to vote, that’s what pushed me hard to do this; before I just think ‘well, it’s OK.’”
“It makes a big difference for someone that doesn’t have the opportunity [to vote], to someone who does,” said Michael.
J. Andrew Jooste, a minister at Newark Road Church of Christ, also used a lawyer to go through the naturalization process. He said he found it useful because there was so much paperwork he needed to complete for the application.
“I actually worked through a lawyer in Columbus, and I am very pleased that I did,” he said. “I was pleased that I worked through him and everything went very smoothly.
“Last year apparently there was an unusually high incidence of citizenship and [my lawyer] said that there was such a back log with the election year and all of that happening, there was a build-up. ... It could have taken anywhere between three to six months up to 18 months [to receive citizenship], but we were in and out within nine months.”
Jooste had been to the states several times on a green card before coming here to stay. In 1977, he attended Freed-Hardeman University in Tennessee, where he graduated with an undergraduate degree in theology. He returned in the early 1990s and served with two churches in West Virginia, and came back in 1999 to complete his Master’s degree in ministry. About two years later he moved to Mount Vernon, and now serves as a full-time minister at the Church of Christ on Newark Road.
“We have been here for eight years, so rather than getting another green card, I decided [to stay],” he said.
For health concerns, Jooste decided that being in the United States would be best for him and his wife.
“I still have family back there,” said Jooste. He still keeps in close contact with his three sisters living in South Africa.
Jooste and his wife, Alfreda, a native of West Virginia, have been married for 38 years.
“One of the things about a mixed marriage I would never advocate, is trying to straddle the Atlantic. Every time I came to visit the family here, that’s a 17-hour trip; now, we went back [to South Africa] for a visit in 2006, and then it was the reverse,” he said.
When Jooste became a citizen over a month ago, he was astounded by the large number of immigrants present.
“On that day there were nearly 50 of us sworn in from all over Ohio, and they came from China, Australia, Great Britain, South Africa, Russia. But really, it was a [multi-national] all the way, people were becoming citizen from many different countries,” said Jooste.
“I appreciated the way [Judge Sargus] was pleasant about everything; ... the place was packed out because he said it was uncommon to have so many going through citizenship,” he continued. “He spent a little bit of time talking about the people who had been naturalized that day and he was saying that, in actual fact, you are becoming like the rest of us. Because the history of the United States, people have come from the beginning — as we know it today — have come from other countries.”
When it came time to prepare for the test, Jooste felt he was very ready.
“I was already familiar with [civic background of the United States] because I love history,” he said. “It was interesting to learn about the development of the Constitution, and the law which in many ways forms the basic operation of the country itself.”
One of the questions the interview officer asked was, “If you were a citizen, what do you appreciate about being an American?”
Jooste said he replied, “I appreciated the wording of the oath, ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. To the republic for which it stands, one nation under God. ...”
He said that only a week before, he preached a sermon on the meaning of “One nation under God.”
“Religion is so much a part of the American culture it runs into what we are saying,” he said.
Jooste said that where he lived in South Africa, there was such a diversity of people and Afrikaan tribes that all spoke different languages. Coming here, he said, he was very much used to the cross cultures and felt very comfortable.
“I wasn’t surprised [by the country] because I already knew so much and I already had so many American friends,” said Jooste. “Mount Vernon has been good to us in the eight years we have been here. ... Also what makes a difference for someone like me is the advantage in everyone speaking the same language; basically, everyone speaks English over here.”
In many ways, Jooste said, America is like South Africa with the cross cultures and the standard of living. Alfreda agreed.
“I lived in South Africa for 28 years and I had no problem adjusting,” she said, other than driving on the left side of the road. “You quickly learned to read the signs that told you where you were going.”