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America the Beautiful – Some Immigrants on Faculty Pursue Citizenship

Junior Khaki Loughran quizzes Dr. Paula Pontes on citizenship test questions. Photo: Sydnie Jiang

Junior Khaki Loughran quizzes Dr. Paula Pontes on citizenship test questions.
Photo: Sydnie Jiang

When people talk about the United States of America, they often mention basketball or football or some of the famous fast food restaurants. But the U.S. offers much more than sports and good food.

The United States has a variety of options for education, and it also offers the idea of the American Dream, where everyone has an equal opportunity for success. But one of the most appealing aspects of being an American for many is the right to vote, and in order to do that, you must become a citizen.

Here at Pace Academy, Spanish teacher Paula Pontes is in the midst of applying for her American citizenship. Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Clement Rouviere applied for citizenship in March of 2016, and after a 6-month long process, he became an American citizen.  

One can become an American citizen one of two ways. You are either born on American soil, or you have immigrated to the United States and applied to be a citizen. To apply for citizenship, there are several qualifications you must meet. After that, the actual application process begins. The application includes filling out forms, getting fingerprinted, taking a citizenship test and then doing an interview. If everything is approved, you take the oath to become an American citizen. “The actual citizenship application process was easy,” said Coach Rouviere. “However, the requirements and paperwork to become eligible was more difficult.”

Before a person is able to become a citizen, they must have been a permanent resident of the United States for at least five years, but you can start the application process to become a citizen 90 days before your five-year anniversary.

Dr. Pontes is very eager to obtain her citizenship after enduring a long process to get to this point. She first came to America from Brazil on a student visa to pursue her education at the University of Georgia. After completing her degree at UGA, she had to get a work visa that only lasted six years and during that time, she had to apply for a green card.

This process involved hiring lawyers and paying legal and government fees which can be very expensive. However, this made the citizenship procedure simpler because the government already knew her background from the green card application.

Immigrating to a new country can be exhilarating but also terrifying. Many people leave their homes to pursue something they are passionate about in a country that could have a completely different culture than what they are comfortable with. “I never thought about immigrating,” said Dr. Pontes. “I thought I would finish my education and then go back to Brazil.” Although Dr. Pontes did not intend to stay in America, marriage and good jobs kept her in the United States and now she feels more at home here.

Coach Rouviere is proud to be an American because he feels a great sense of accomplishment from leaving his life in France to move to the United States. The idea that he could continue his athletics and academics on the university level appealed to him because France’s system did not offer such multitasking beyond the high school level.

ICGL Director Trish Anderson decided not to apply for American citizenship and instead renewed her permanent residency. Ms. Anderson was born in Jamaica and received her British citizenship from her parents, retaining dual citizenship with Britain and with South Africa where she spent most of her childhood on through her studies at the University of Southern Africa. Her decision not to become an American citizen was based on the fact that she would have had to renounce her British citizenship.

Although it is not forbidden for Americans to hold dual citizenship, it does say in the American oath of citizenship that a person has to renounce their previous citizenship. “Britain is where my family is and I don’t want to cut off that avenue to them,” said Ms. Anderson. Permanent residents receive all the same rights as a citizen, barring the ability to vote, and she decided that her cultural identity was more important to her than being able to vote. However, Ms. Anderson still feels at home in America, and her loyalty to the United States does not change just because she chose not to apply for citizenship.