Last week you met Janice Godtland, an immigration attorney at the Center for New Americans. Today I will share the story of one of the many individuals she has helped to become a U.S. Citizen. Matuda Agaba is a 63 year-old former refugee from the African nation of Eritrea. She came to the United States 8 years ago after spending nearly a decade in a refugee camp. Originally, she was resettled in Las Vegas, Nevada but decided to come to Sioux Falls 6 years ago to be closer to her daughter.
Matuda began the process to citizenship nearly a year and a half ago. She first met with Janice to complete the initial 21 page application, take pictures, and pay the fees required to apply. Then she eagerly waited for the letter to come in the mail telling her the dates of her appointments with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. At her first appointment she was fingerprinted and completed a full background check. After passing the background check, her second appointment was made and consisted of an in-depth personal interview with an Immigration Officer. Like many refugees, Matuda attended Citizenship preparation classes at the LSS Center for New Americans in order to prepare for the interview. During this interview, the officer asked Matuda to detail her life here in America, her life in Eritrea, and her experiences in the refugee camp. The officer also tested Matuda’s knowledge of the U.S. and history.
The final step for Matuda was the Naturalization Oath Ceremony. Matuda, along with 40 others, officially became a United States citizen on Friday, September 11th at 2:30 pm. During the ceremony, many speakers stood up and spoke about the significance of being a U.S. Citizen. To the delight of most of those present, President Obama even appeared on the room’s television with a prerecorded message to celebrate their citizenship. Each person also got to the opportunity to pose with the judge and record their first moments of being a U.S. citizen. Matuda said this was one of her favorite moments of the day.
Finally, after all of the pictures with friends and family, Matuda did something she has wanted to do for most of her life—she registered to vote. Matuda has never had the opportunity to vote. When Eritrea gained its independence in 1993, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front seized control and established a one-party state and banned any further political activity. There have been no elections since. Though excited to vote at the next election, Matuda is nervous because, “I’ve never voted before and it’s hard to know what each candidate stands for.”
Please help us welcome Matuda Agaba as a brand new U.S. Citizen!
Kristyne Walth, Volunteer Coordinator