Forming A CitizenHow a company HR department helped make an employee’s dream possible.
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”Then, in that instant, Maha became an American citizen, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. It was not difficult to see the joy in Maha’s face as admired his freshly-minted Certificate of Citizenship. Clearly, this was a big deal. Especially in his case.
Escaping WarOnce the great Kingdom of a Million Elephants Under the White Parasol, the country of Maha’s birth, Laos, had become a bona fide war zone by the mid-1960s. The Vietnam conflict, still in its early stages, had begun to spill over into neighboring countries. Viet Cong militias formed bases and supply depots on Laotian territories. The United States, deeply concerned about the spread of Communism, sent American B-52s over Laos in 1964, targeting Viet Cong installations and supply lines. Over the next nine years, an estimated two million tons of U.S. ordinance fell on Laotian farms, roads, and, sadly, people. Concurrently, a civil war had erupted between the pro-U.S. Royal Lao Government and the Marxist-Leninist Pathet Lao party. Despite U.S. assistance, the Royals fell. The Pathet Lo Communist regime assumed power and remains to this day. Pathet Lo, aware that Hmong communities in Laos had assisted the American CIA against the Viet Cong, began a campaign of human rights violations against the Hmong. An ethnic minority, the Hmong had little local support and few options. To make matters worse, tons of unexploded ordnance lie buried in Laotian farmland, just waiting for an innocent shovel or plow to detonate. Life had become difficult and dangerous, with no light at the end of the tunnel. Many Hmong families wanted out. The family of Maha Thor, age two, was no exception.
Seizing OpportunityMaha’s family ended up in St. Paul, where manufacturing companies like Ajax are thriving and in need of qualified people.
The Next Step: CitizenshipThroughout the tumultuous 2016 presidential campaign, members of Maha’s family disagreed often about candidates and issues. “We finally made a bet on who would be elected president,” Maha said. “The winning side got a lobster dinner.” Later Maha began to think about becoming eligible to vote. But voting meant becoming an American citizen. That, Maha learned, is no small thing. Among the hurdles Maha cleared to become eligible for U.S. citizenship were 1) a one hundred-question naturalization test covering U.S. government, history and civics, 2) becoming fluent in English, and 3) passing a citizenship interview that included a very thorough background check. The naturalization test was not easy; most Americans would not receive a passing score without serious study and memorization. Also, the test is oral, which makes the test much more difficult than, for example, a printed multiple-choice test. The civics test is administered by a United States Citizenship and Immigration Service. USCIS officers will ask each applicant 10 of the 100 civics questions on the study guide. Here are a few examples from the test:
- The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?
- What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?
- Who was President during World War I?