Welcome aboard: US welcomes new citizens
CALUMET — Seventeen years after he came to the U.S. as a Ph.D. student, Durdu Guney achieved another distinction Thursday: American citizen.
“It was a long journey, and I’m really excited about it,” said Guney, who came to the U.S. after completing his master’s degree in Turkey. “It is a country of freedom of speech, and religion.”
He and 22 other immigrants — including his wife, Ebru — became citizens in a naturalization ceremony held at the Keweenaw National Historical Park Visitors Center in Calumet.
“These days, you hear a lot about immigration, but we do not always hear about how crucial immigration is to the success of our country,” said R. Allen Edgar, judge for the U.S. District Court in Marquette. “Nearly all of us are the product of immigration, and we have been constantly enriched by immigrants who have provided us with new energy and ideas.”
Thursday’s group of the latest American citizens represented 14 countries across five continents, including Tanzania, Canada, Burma, Chile, Egypt, and the United Kingdom.
To become citizens, immigrants must be in the U.S. for at least five years, or three if married to a U.S. citizen. Other requirements including being able to read and write English, demonstrating knowledge of U.S. history and its system of government, and having good moral character.
The immigration stories in the room Thursday ran from three to 30 years, said Mick Dedvukaj, district director of the Great Lakes District of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The average processing time for an application for naturalization was 10.3 months in 2018, according to USCIS.
Dedvukaj knew the process firsthand. Arriving from Albania at the age of 1, he made it nearly all the way through an application to a prestigious prosecutor job in Queens. A form asked him if he was a citizen. He didn’t know, and asked his father.
“In that Eastern European way of his, he said, ‘You know, I don’t think we ever filled out those papers,'” Dedvukaj said.
He had to pass up the job. After that, he filled out the same papers and took the same test as everyone onstage, becoming a U.S. citizen three years later.
The Great Lakes District is headquartered in Detroit, where even Upper Peninsula applicants had to travel for their personal interview.
“Legally speaking, all of you here now are as American as someone whose family has been here for hundreds of years,” he said. “There really is no difference. The only thing you cannot do is be president.”
Dave Geisler, president of Calumet and chair of the Keweenaw Historical Advisory Commission, looked into the audience and saw many people he knew with roots in Finland, Cornwall and others. He told the new citizens of how Finnish pannukakku and Slovenian potica made Calumet unique.
“I really encourage you not to forget where you came from, but pass it on,” he said. “You really make our community richer because of it.”
Dedvukaj and Geisler both encouraged people to become involved in their community. Houghton County Clerk Jennifer Kelly was on hand to register voters.
One of those signing up was Jonathan Michael Bindi of Calumet. A Christian missionary, he appreciates America’s religious freedom. He came to the United States from India, getting his green card in 1980.
The written test wasn’t easy, but it was easier than rounding up the documentation, he said. For some parts, it required flights to India to find originals.
After becoming a citizen, he’s happy about air travel being less stressful.
“Now I’m looking forward to it because now i can breeze through, no special interviews, not have to explain what i was doing out there,” he said.
Hao Lin’s family came to the United States when he was 10. After growing up in Menominee, the University of Madison-Wisconsin graduate moved to California to work in the restaurant business.
Citizenship is “a really amazing moment,” he said. He’s looking forward to being able to vote.
“I want to make this country a better place, to support and contribute to the community,” he said.
Guney is still at Michigan Tech, now as an associate professor in electrical and computer engineering. He quoted another naturalized American citizen, Albert Einstein, saying the only limits on him now are those of his imagination.
“That’s the important thing, to be free and contribute to society as you wish,” he said.