Citizenship ceremony is 'dream come true' for immigrant children

Published: Jun. 17, 2017 at 9:15 PM MST|Updated: Jun. 19, 2017 at 9:04 AM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The United States' National Anthem was played loudly in the auditorium as he waved his flag, signaling the accomplishment for Karrar Hussein.

"Accomplishing this is like a dream come true. It's really awesome," the 14-year-old said.

That dream developed in 2008, when as young children, he and his sisters fled from Iraq with their parents. The adults became naturalized U.S. citizens in 2013, with their thankful kids by their side.

"When I was helping my parents with their citizenship test, I was the one who helped them study," 16-year-old Zahraa Hussein told the crowd as the audience laughed. "So thank you to me, actually."

"It was difficult. It was challenging. But it also taught us. Because when we teach them, and help them study, we're also helping ourselves. We're learning with them," Hawraa Hussein told Tucson News Now.

The three Hussein siblings were among 12 children of immigrants, from six different countries, who were honored Saturday, June 17, at Catalina High School. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services conducted a citizenship celebration, where those young applicants received certificates of citizenship.

According to USCIS officials, these were children who had at least one parent naturalize before the child reached the age of 18. At that moment, the minor child becomes a U.S. citizen but has no documentation of citizenship status.

Saturday's ceremony bestowed certificates that prove the child is a U.S. citizen.

Supervisory Immigration Services Officer Anthony Jackson administered the oath of allegiance.

"To be able to see the families come through, it's something that's gratifying. It's something that's special," Jackson said.

Something special, that the Hussein teens said came with unfortunate scrutiny. While the relaxed auditorium proved to be the finish line on their path to full-fledged citizenship, it couldn't have been a more different setting from where they started.

The Hussein teens said that even though they were U.S. citizens by way of their parents' naturalization, it never stopped the unwarranted hatred from people.

The children said that they "have been called terrorists" out among the community, and have been ridiculed for simply practicing their religion.

"It doesn't matter. Nowadays, to this generation, it doesn't matter if you tell them, 'I'm a U.S. citizen.' They'll still treat you differently. They won't treat you the same. It's not only in school. It's out in public, also," Zahraa said.

Her twin sister said she has gotten used to the prejudiced phrases directed at her and her family.

"I've been here for 10 years. I'm so used to it that when they talk like that I just make a joke out of it," Hawraa said, saying she does her best to ignore the verbal abuse.

By their accounts, the children were made to feel unwelcome and uncomfortable in a home country they have lived in for a decade.

It's in stark contrast to Saturday's emotions and feelings in the Catalina High School auditorium. A warm outpouring of support came with each round of applause for the Hussein trio and the nine other children of immigrants on the stage.

"Everyone has a different journey. Everyone has a different path to get to this point today. For refugee families, it's especially more difficult than others. But they do come. And yes, it is this calm, comfortable environment [in the auditorium]," Jackson said.

The ceremony commemorated World Refugee Day, scheduled for June 20, which celebrated the "courage and strength of those compelled to flee their homes in fear of persecution," according to a USCIS news release.

They come to a place of inclusion.

"Because even though [these children are] coming from somewhere else, they realize that they aren't born in the United States and that they may feel they're a little bit different. So having that certificate, they're showing it and saying that they're American," Jackson said. "That's the nice thing about America - they can integrate and be as American as you or I."

The Hussein children hope any hatred gets washed away by receiving their citizenship certifications. They know it may not be the end, but they are proud of the future journey ahead.

"I know who I am. I'm proud to be a Muslim who wears a hijab. I've been wearing it for 5 years now. I'm proud, and I would not take it off for anything," Zahraa said, talking about those who have given her grief. "I speak the language, I know the culture, and I know my culture, also. So do not come up to me, because I know what I want to do. Don't let anyone come between you and your dream."

MOBILE USERS: Download our Tucson News Now app for Apple and Android devices.

Copyright 2017 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.