Tears of joy streamed down Martine Lowe’s face April 28 as she took the oath of allegiance to become a United States citizen at a naturalization ceremony conducted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at the Academy of the Sacred Heart.
With her husband Martin taking the same oath at her side, her daughter Deanna a few rows behind, their Episcopal priest, Father Steven Craft from St. Philip Episcopal in Algiers, and several dozen Sacred Heart students cheering her on, England-born Lowe couldn’t contain the emotion she was experiencing.
“It was really moving,” said Lowe, an Upper School administrative assistant at Sacred Heart, admitting she was a bit sad about “giving up my hold on the U.K.”
Process did not take long
Lowe and Martin first discussed American citizenship after living in the United States for five years, but Martin’s parents were still alive then and they wanted her to retain allegiance to the United Kingdom. They have been here for 23 years.
But with an American-born daughter, now 19, they began thinking anew about becoming American citizens.
“We’re both strong Christians, and it was something we prayed about and thought about,” Martine Lowe said.
They applied to become U.S. citizens in September 2016 and were approved for citizenship in November.
“We were processed really quick,” Martine Lowe said. “We were sent a book with 100 questions,” on American politics, history, local information about our state of residence (which in the Lowes’ case is Louisiana), monetary units and other facts they had to learn for a citizenship test.
“It was easy,” she said. “After we took our test, we Googled what it would take to be an UK citizen, and it was harder.”
Eureka Arties, supervisory immigration services officer, said the time it takes to become a citizen varies on a person’s age, number of years living in the United States and how someone obtained permanent residence status. For example, if one is age 55 and has been a permanent resident at least 15 years or is age 50 and has been a permanent resident for 20 years, he or she is eligible for naturalization. Some spouses of U.S. citizens can file earlier, she said.
At the ceremony, candidates relinquish their permanent resident cards (Green Cards), since they are no longer needed.
Room full of hope
Martine Lowe was among 42 others from 24 countries – Brazil, People’s Republic of China, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Germany, Honduras, Iraq, Italy, Jamaica, Jordan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Moldova, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Philippines, Taiwan United Kingdom, Venezuela and Vietnam – to become citizens that day.
Each person rose as his or her country of origin was called and was presented as a candidate for citizenship. The oath of allegiance to the United States of America was then recited.
The Lowes shared another special moment when Martin Lowe, also born in England, was selected to share why he became a U.S. citizen. He told fellow candidates that they would be Americans from now on.
“Our former allegiances will be gone, but not forgotten,” he said.
Martin Lowe’s journey began with a yearning in his heart in kindergarten when he saw an American coin stamped with an eagle and the phrase “In God We Trust.” By age 10, he learned the shared history of England and the U.S. and how the American colonies became independent. He became enthralled with the idea in the Declaration of Independence that “all men were created equal,” so unlike the history of kings and queens.
He thinks America’s Independence Day is not just the birth of America but “the birth of democracy itself.”
His citizenship adventure began in the U.S. when he came here for work at age 23. He has shared that adventure with his wife, Martine, and their daughter, enduring Hurricane Katrina, Gulf of Mexico oil spill and more, yet still stayed.
“Over this time, I have found what I already knew, that I love this country,” Martin said. “This is my country in my heart, and, over time, I have come to feel that I was born to be an American … and it was time to make it legal.”
Upper School student body president Grace Gerig said the students were excited to share the special day with the candidates for naturalization.
“We are so fortunate to witness the beginning of your journey as a citizen of the United States,” Gerig said. “Ceremonies like this remind us of our call to be a nation that celebrates and welcomes others. … Everyone has special gifts to share with our world, and it is our job to discover these gifts and make our world a better place.”
The Academy of the Sacred Heart Choir made the ceremony more meaningful by singing the National Anthem, “America the Beautiful” and “I Dream a World.” Students also served as greeters.
“We particularly wanted it as a learning experience for our students,” ASH’s Liz Manthey said. “The ceremony is incredibly moving.”
The naturalization ceremony had been held at the Academy of the Sacred Heart once before in 2008 when middle school computer teacher Jasbin Jeta and her husband became citizens, Manthey recalled.
“You really get to see who is part of our country – our new citizens,” Manthey said.
For general information about citizenship, call 1 (800) 333-4636 or visit www.uscis.gov.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.