First-person account of the naturalization interview and ceremony

Update 6/7/2018: Since this post has become the most popular piece on this blog, I thought I should invite readers to contact my office with questions about the naturalization process.

On Tuesday January 30, 2018 I became a US citizen. I submitted Form N-400 just before Christmas of 2016, and completed biometrics in early 2017. Then, I waited.

The journey

Near the end of December 2017 I received a notice in the mail telling me that my interview was scheduled for 7:15 am on January 30, 2018. I declined to take the advice of my friend, Len Saunders, who recommended that I stay in a hotel near the Tukwila field office so that I would not be late. Instead, I opted to leave my house in Blaine, Washington at 4:30 am on the day of the interview. This decision may have been a mistake. At approximately the same time as I got stuck in traffic on I-5 South and accepted the reality that I would be late, my digestive system finished processing my second cup of coffee. In spite of my discomfort, I carried on.

I took the exit, and missed my turn, drove up a hill, took a left over an overpass, headed back towards I-5, and ended up at the same spot where I left the highway. By this time it was 7:30. I made my left turn this time, but took the exit for Tukwila International Boulevard South instead of North. After a daring U-turn on Tukwila International Boulevard I proceeded towards the field office. As I turned into the parking lot at 7:45 it hit me: “Parking: $7.00 – CASH ONLY.”

My poorly-conceived plan was to park across the street, check-in, and then move my car. The problem was that the light wouldn’t change. It changed twice for the cross-traffic to make left turns, but not for me to go straight through. After five minutes of waiting I turned right, again heading south on Tukwila International Boulevard. I took another U-turn and pulled into the parking lot across from the field office. As I noticed the signs for the towing company it occurred to me that the only thing that could make this situation worse would be having my car towed. I proceeded north on Tukwila International Boulevard in search of a cash machine.

About half a mile up the road I found a 7-11 where I could withdraw money. I scanned the store for a restroom, but didn’t see one. I headed back to the field office. By the time I parked my car and got in line for security it was approximately 7:55. After proceeding through the security check-in I stood in line, holding my bladder, for approximately 15 minutes.

I showed the gentleman at the counter my passport and appointment notice. “Hi, I’m about an hour late for my naturalization interview. Please don’t tell me that I have to re-file the N-400 and pay the fee again.”

“Ha-ha! That sounds like something we would do, doesn’t it?” He paused. “Go up the stairs and to the right, you’re number J-35.”

The interview

After hitting the restroom I waited approximately 15 more minutes. A door opened and an agent called my number, then led me down a long corridor to his office. He asked me to sit down, introduced himself as Officer Smith, and then sat down across from me at his desk. Before he could begin I started pulling documents out of my briefcase and asking if he wanted to review them right away, or wait. “Here are my last three years of tax returns,” I said, dropping a thick stack of paper on his desk. “We had some tax liability that we weren’t prepared to pay all at once, but I have the signed letter from the IRS as well as receipts for payment. Also, I wasn’t able to print out any evidence of my marriage, but I have some pictures of my wife and daughter on my phone, and…”

“Actually, if you could please turn your phone off while I conduct the interview.”

“Oh, sure,” I said, and apologized. After that exchange, he instructed me to stand and raise my right hand while he administered an oath.

The first part of the interview was simply confirming that data in the first part of my Form N-400. Since it was submitted almost a year before my interview a lot of information had to be updated. Both my home address and my work address had changed. Next came the test. Fortunately, I had prepared by regularly reviewing the list of possible questions and answers. The interviewer asked, I answered, and he typed my responses into his computer. When we got to the end I asked if that was ten questions already.

“You only need six out of ten to pass,” he reminded me.

“Ah, ok, we’re not going for the A-plus here.”

After that, he passed me a piece of paper with three sentences written on it, and asked me to read the first sentence. “Who can vote?” I responded. He typed my answer in to the computer again. Then, he handed me another piece of paper and asked me to write “Citizens can vote.” My responses to these two questions confirmed that my English language proficiency was sufficient for the purpose of conferring citizenship.

At the final stage of the interview we went through the last part of Form N-400, or as I call them, the serious questions. “Ok,” he said. “I am going to ask you a series of questions, and I want you to answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Please wait until I finish reading the question before you answer.” I made a point to maintain eye contact while answering “No” to these questions. The only exception was my answer to the question about owing taxes, which I had effectively answered at the very beginning before taking the oath. At that time he reviewed the letter from the IRS, and then proceeded to ask me if I had ever recruited child soldiers, intended to practice polygamy, had ever been a habitual drunkard, etc. The final six serious questions (e.g. Do you support the Constitution?) must be answered affirmatively.

At the conclusion of the questions, Officer Smith typed a few more lines and then waited for his computer to process the information. “Congratulations,” he said. “I’m recommending that your application for citizenship be approved. The next oath ceremony is today at 1:30pm. Can you make it?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. Here is a list of questions that you will need to answer and sign before you take your oath, so don’t commit any crimes, leave the country, or get divorced between now and 1:30.”

“Actually, I think you have to wait 90 days in Washington before a divorce is finalized.”

He led me back down the corridor to the waiting area. The entire interview process lasted approximately an hour.

The ceremony

There is not much of anything to do in the neighborhood of the Tukwila field office, but I didn’t want to pay another $7.00 for parking in the same day. I decided to stroll up the hill until I found somewhere to rest. Approximately one mile up the road I found the Tukwila public library. I stopped in to read some e-mails and do some work that I brought with me.

After lunch at Jack-in-the-Box I returned to field office, went through security again, and was sent upstairs to the naturalization ceremony waiting area. We got started just after 1:30 pm. The agents called us up one-by-one so that we could surrender our green cards and receive an envelope with citizenship materials. Then we went downstairs to wait in the auditorium. Once we were all in the auditorium the ceremony began.

We watched a video of Donald Trump welcoming us to “the American Family” and some other preliminary remarks, then were instructed to stand up. “I will administer the oath of citizenship, and when you sit down you will all be U.S. citizens.” Once we had all completed the oath together they called us up one-at-a-time to receive our certificates of citizenship. The whole thing was like a high school graduation ceremony.

As soon as I received my certificate of citizenship I exited stage right and took a copy of the Constitution as well as a voter registration pamphlet. When I got back to my seat I signed my certificate of citizenship and put it in the folder. Immediately after the ceremony ended I rushed to the parking lot to try and beat Seattle rush hour for the long drive home.

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