Chasing a dream – my legal journey to American citizenship
June 22, 2007
Carrying two suitcases, a solid education and the desire to build my personal dream, I left Mumbai (Bombay), India, in August 1990. Never before had I ventured outside India. With no family or friends outside the Indian continent, I took a big risk by traveling to the United States to continue my education.
I’d obtained degrees in printing technology, economics and accounting in Mumbai and, with the support of my family, I decided to pursue a degree in printing management at West Virginia University on a student visa. The culture shock was profound. West Virginia’s accent is tough to follow, as were the norms and the food.
But I completed my degree with honors in 18 months, and was hired by Dow Jones & Co. My first assignment was in Chicago in December 1992 as the assistant production manager for the Wall Street Journal/Barron’s. December, most definitely is not one of the warmest months of the year to move to Chicago! I drove there in my Pinto with $70 in my pocket and all my worldly belongings packed in the car and went to work on an Optional Practical Training visa, which was good for 12 months and designed to allow those with student visas to apply the knowledge they gained in the classroom to practical work experience.
After the conclusion of the training period an employer has the choice to discontinue employment. Luckily, Dow Jones decided to retain my services and applied for an H1-B visa on my behalf. This visa was valid for six years. During this period I applied for my permanent resident I 485, or green card. The paperwork and governmental procedures are very cumbersome but well worth it. Anxiety and sleepless nights are part of the application process until you receive the approval notice. We received our approval in 1997 and the actual green cards in 1998.
I worked for Dow Jones for 11 years before John DiMambro, the Nevada Appeal’s publisher, hired me in 2003.
I have been eligible for U.S. citizenship for more than five years, but due to sheer laziness and lack of motivation did not feel the need to obtain my citizenship.
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That changed in January when my wife and I returned from India after the first anniversary of my father’s death. Somewhere over the Pacific she whispered in my ear that she thought Hillary Clinton could end up being the next president. As we were not registered voters (citizens), we did not have a say in any American election but we would certainly be affected by the election. Clinton, in my opinion, is a liberal socialist. She has zero executive experience, is a ruthless and calculating political operative not caring whose life she destroys and has always held onto her husband’s coattails for political gain. The Clintons are a formidable team. Time and again the Clintons and their political hacks have ruined opponents using unethical tactics and have always gotten away with it. Watch out Obama!
At that moment, we decided to change our status from permanent residents to naturalized citizens. We applied in late February 2007 and received our approval notice in May 2007.
We had to go to Reno for a citizenship test consisting of 10 questions based on U.S. history and government. After you get the test you are asked to read and write simple sentences, which to me seemed to be at about the first-grade level. Upon completion, the immigration officer approves your case for citizenship.
During our interview process, it became apparent to my wife and me that learning the English language was not as important to others as it was to us. As we waited for our interview at the Reno Homeland Security office, the agent called out letters assigned to other families who had come in for fingerprinting. The agent called out the “Letter A” loud and clear four times. A family of five near us did not move until another person sitting nearby re-pronounced it as “aah,” corresponding to their native language, Spanish. At home our 3-and 5-year-old children are fluent in four languages and we speak in all these languages. In public we always try to converse in English. English is the language of the United States. Our Constitution and our laws are written in English. If someone needs the letter “A” translated in any other language and desires to immigrate to the United States, I believe they must work harder at learning the English language.
The citizenship swearing-in ceremony was wonderful. It lasted around three hours and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was conducted at the U.S. District Court in Reno, presided by the Honorable Valerie P. Cooke, U.S. Magistrate Judge. There were 58 candidates for this formal ceremony. There were representatives from the offices of Senators Reid and Ensign, Congressman Dean Heller and others.
Nearly half my life has been spent in my adopted country. The United States of America is the land of opportunity, freedom, laws and also responsibility. Why then is our president and certain lawmakers of both political parties moving legislation forward to grant amnesty to lawbreaking and irresponsible individuals who are in our country illegally? The illegal aliens disregarded our laws when they entered our country. By rewarding them, we are sending the wrong message to law abiding residents and future legal immigrants.
My family is very proud of our American citizenship and we will do our best to serve and protect our country.
• Girish Pandit is regional production/operations director for Sierra Nevada Media Group, which includes the Nevada Appeal.