Census 2001
New Americans join 'nation of immigrants'
Two case studies of the newest of U.S. citizens, of many thousands each month

by Geoff S. Fein

Each month more than 2,000 immigrants from all over the world arrive in Santa Clara County.

They come as Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, El Salvadoran, Cuban, German, Romanian, Algerian, Russian or Ethiopian -- and they become Americans.

They add the song of language , they bring a wealth of knowledge, culture and personality that adds further breadth and depth to America, the "nation of immigrants" throughout its history and deep into its prehistory.

Every month the future citizens show up at the San Jose Civic Auditorium to partake in the naturalization ceremony. They take an oath to protect the United States, they take an oath to leave behind their original nationality to become an American.

On July 24, Prasad Parimi and Holli Kang joined 1,200 others in becoming American citizens. As part of the Weekly's special report on the 2000 Census, here is a look at why some people want to become Americans.

A long road to citizenship

Prasad Parimi has been in the United States for 18 years. His wife Lalita has been here for 24. This week they joined 1,200 other immigrants in San Jose, and many thousands more across the country, to become American citizens.

Their experience may not be like those who came through Ellis Island 80 years ago, but their reasons for becoming Americans echoes the past.

Prasad, 48, and Lalita, 46, both left India for the United States to find better opportunities. Prasad is an engineer for a Silicon Valley semi-conductor firm. Lalita is a chemist for a pharmaceutical company.

Immigrants who are in the United States on green cards have to wait five years before they can apply for citizenship.

During those five years they share in almost all the same privileges and responsibilities as their American counterparts: They can own land, pay taxes, get jobs, go to school and have children. But they can't vote.

For Prasad and Lalita, being able to participate in the Democratic process was the motivation to become Americans.

There was a desire to "feel part of the country," Lalita said. "I'm part now, but I will be a total part."

Prasad took almost 16 years to decide if he wanted to become a citizen. He and Lalita wanted to see how they liked living in America before becoming Americans.

Lalita said for her the decision was easy. She spent more of her life in America than in India. Her father, mother and two brothers had already become citizens.

Prasad and Lalita applied together for citizenship.

But only Prasad received a letter telling him he was eligible to take the citizenship oath. Neither of them know why Lalita's application has been delayed.

"We applied together, but he is going first," Lalita said. "It's a little bit disappointing. We always wanted to go together."

On Tuesday Prasad took his citizenship oath.

Lalita is still waiting.

Worth all the delays, red tape

Holli Kang, 29, an oncology pharmacist at Stanford University School of Medicine, grew up in the United States. She was almost 3 years old when her parents emigrated from South Korea to Hawaii. The family eventually settled in San Jose, but Holli's parents never gave up their Korean citizenship.

When Holli turned 27, she began to think about becoming a U.S. citizen.

"Growing up I didn't realize the differences, but voting is pretty big," she said. "The issue of voting and decision-making made a big difference."

Kang said it is also easier to travel as a U.S. citizen than as a Korean citizen.

She decided it was time to become an American.

"The wait was frustrating -- cutting through the red tape," she said. "

Kang had to have her fingerprinting done twice, because of the time elapsed from the first time she had been interviewed.

It didn't stop there.

"They lost my photos," she said of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). She submitted a second set of photos.

Then it came time to study for her naturalization test. "I purchased a study guide for the exam," she said. Kang found the test, a U.S. history exam, to be pretty easy -- because everyone is given the test and answers ahead of time to study and the examining officer only asked her five questions, Kang said. She said he told her that each examining officer may ask as many questions as needed. Each person needs at least a score of 70 percent to pass. Kang took the exam in January. Although she figured she passed, she didn't know until a few weeks before the swearing-in ceremony. The INS also lost her test. "They sent me several letters telling me to (come in and) take the exam," she said. "Luckily I saved all my documents." Now Kang was at last set to become an American citizen. On Tuesday she was prepared to take the citizenship oath. But the system wasn't ready for her. The judge scheduled to administer the oath couldn't make it to the morning ceremony and the soon-to-be citizens had to wait almost three hours while another judge came up from Monterey, Kang said. But it didn't matter. Kang was still going to become a citizen on her mother's birthday. Kang said her parents are now getting geared up to become U.S. citizens. She said they are convinced it's important, worth even all the delays and red tape their daughter and so many others have endured.