After years of statelessness, asylee and friend of Benach Ragland LLP, Sonya Kay (alias), kindly shares her thoughts and memories from her first time voting as a United States citizen:
“I think I will remember the day I became a U.S. citizen, October 21, 2010, for the rest of my life. I will remember that lump in my throat, tears pouring down my face when I took the oath of allegiance, the thought that I could apply for jobs that I couldn’t before, that I would finally be able to travel to the country that I came from–and the hope that I might not have to go through secondary inspection at the airport after visiting my siblings or friends in Europe–and that I would finally be able to participate in presidential elections in this country. When I look back now, after ten years of my life in the U.S., I think it was really hard to earn my citizenship. It took me eight long years, because my citizenship was based on asylum. There were years of sadness, desperation, loss of loved ones, and times of bitterness that I lived with here.
Well, it turned out that becoming a citizen didn’t end my struggle magically. It didn’t make me richer, nor did it change my employment situation, and I was humiliated by a CBP officer in Philadelphia so badly after coming back from a trip to Europe (where I went to celebrate my citizenship) that I sobbed in a bathroom for almost an hour, thinking that I should never have sought asylum in this country. Thankfully, that feeling didn’t last for a long time, but it did make me write a two-page complaint to the U.S. Homeland Security CBP headquarters. I received a three-page response to my complaint with sincere apologies for the misconduct by their employee.
When I was finally able to book my trip for a memorial service dedicated to my parents this October (both of my parents died three years and three days apart in the month of October), I made sure that I would be able to return to the U.S. before election day. Of course, I could have taken advantage of early voting, but it was really important to me to cast my vote on election day: to experience that right, to sense that feeling, and most importantly to hope that my vote would be counted so that my candidate would be able to continue to reform this country, which is far from perfect, as I originally thought. Growing up in a communist country, my parents didn’t vote, and after the collapse of the communist regime and the establishment of the institution of president, elections were never really free.
How did I feel on election day? Butterflies in my stomach and worries that something might go wrong with the voting machines, that people would not come to the polls, and that conservatives would win. I live in a swing state, which didn’t vote democratic for decades before 2008. So I joked that I very much hoped that my ballot would help to win, as the race was so close. On election day, I ended up waiting for one hour and 20 minutes in line to vote. I was overwhelmed in a good way to see how people were pouring into the polling place to cast their ballots: old couples, young couples with little children and toddlers, students, people with accented English like me, labor workers, clerks, and people who looked like officials – all in the same line with the same purpose – hope for a better future for their country…
When I finally left my voting booth, I felt the appreciation of freedom once again. The feeling that so many in this country take for granted: that no one would force me to go or not to go to a polling place, that no one would harass me if I mentioned whom I voted for, that my vote would be counted whether my candidate lost or won, that I could write a complaint I was unfairly treated, that I would receive and have the right to appeal a response to my complaint, that I would be free to march if I disagreed with some policies of my adopted country, that I wouldn’t be jailed and tortured, either for expressing my political opinion or for filing cases on behalf of victims whose basic human rights have been violated, and that even if conservatives won and reforms initiated by my presidential candidate came to a halt, I could be sure that the presidential term limit guaranteed by the constitution would not be exchanged for forty years of reign, as it happens in some countries.
It turned out that my state did vote democratic, and my vote was counted, and my hope that the country will continue with reforms is still there.”
Thank you, Sonya, for sharing this important perspective with us and for serving as a constant reminder of what we at Benach Ragland LLP are fighting for. Your story will continue to serve as a source of inspiration to those whose immigration cases have not yet reached completion.