An interview away from calling the U.S. home


For many Americans, citizenship is abstract. For immigrants who become Americans, it is both a privilege and a process.

Hassan Ali, a junior political science and international relations major, is in the process of becoming a United States citizen. Ali was born in Djibouti Oct. 23 1990, about a year before the Djiboutian Civil War began.

In early 1998, Ali and his siblings received their papers and flew out of Africa. They landed in Fargo, N.D., May 5, 1998. Ali lived with his siblings in Fargo until October of that year, when they moved to Sioux Falls. In 2008, Ali graduated from Sioux Falls Washington High School. It was during the 2008 presidential campaign, he said, that he realized he wanted the right to vote.

“[During the Obama campaign] I spent the whole time getting out the vote, getting my friends out to vote, but I couldn’t register to vote,” Ali said. “A lot of my friends in high school just kind of voted on my behalf.”

Although Ali could have applied for citizenship in 2010, he said he could not afford the $680 application fee.

“The application price stopped me from applying in the last three or four years,” Ali said. “But finally my siblings helped me with the money and on Oct. 20, 2011, I sent in my application.”

On Oct. 24 Ali received a letter from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service saying it had received his application. On Nov. 16, Ali took the next step in the naturalization process, which is biometric testing and fingerprinting.

“[They take prints of] all 10 fingers,” Ali said. “It’s basically a background check.”

Less than two months later, on Jan. 6, Ali got a phone call from one of his roommates, Logan DeBoer, who said something from the USCIS had arrived in the mail.

“It was my interview notice,” Ali said.

Ali’s interview will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 16 at the Minnehaha County Courthouse in Sioux Falls. After checking his driver’s license and permanent resident’s card, a USCIS officer will ask him up to 10 questions about U.S. history and government.

After answering the questions, Ali will have to read and write a sentence of English prose. If he passes these tests, he will receive a letter in the mail telling him his ceremony date, when he can take the Unites States Oath of Allegiance.

“At the ceremony, you hand over your green card and they give you your U.S. citizenship certificate,” Ali said. “Then if you don’t want to carry it everywhere, you can get a passport.”

Ali said he should be a citizen by March. In the fall he intends to vote in the 2012 presidential election. In seven years, he can run for a seat in the House of Representatives, and in nine years, he can become a senator.

“I believe in public service,” he said. “There’s been a lot of talk about the role of government in the last two years, and I think it plays a pretty big role in improving people’s lives.”

Although Ali said he “definitely plans” to run for office someday, his main priorities as a U.S. citizen are to vote and work as a political activist in Djibouti.

As a refugee of the Djiboutian Civil War, Ali cannot return to his birth country presently. Once he takes the U.S. Oath of Allegiance, however, he will renounce his political allegiance to other countries. As a U.S. citizen, Ali will be legally able to return to Djibouti. He plans to go back in May to protest human rights violations.

“I think the single number one thing people take for granted in this country is voting,” Ali said. “We have people who only vote when it’s convenient for them, when half the world away people are dying for the right to vote.”