June 29, 2023| After showing up extra early to secure a seat in the third row with a clear view of the judge, Ethel Innis proudly raised her right hand to recite the Oath of Allegiance. Alongside the voices of 999 other New Americans, Ethel celebrated the success of a long journey ─ the journey toward citizenship.
“I was happy and bless God for giving me the opportunity to become an American citizen,” said Ethel, originally from Liberia.
“Citizenship is the great equalizer. I’m so blessed to be a citizen.”
Overcoming challenges, embracing opportunity
Ethel arrived in Minnesota after stints in New York and North Dakota. Personal heartbreak and serious illness have complicated her life in America, but she’s proud of her perseverance. Her close circle of friends helps her stay positive and encourages her toward achieving her goals.
One of those goals was earning U.S. citizenship.
To Ethel, citizenship signifies empowerment and equal treatment under the law. It affords her the protection and security that every individual deserves.
“In America, you’re a human being. You’re important, no matter what,” Ethel said. Her achievement provides her with a sense of belonging and the freedom to live her life with less fear.
Building a home, finding strength
She found invaluable support through her citizenship process at the International Institute of Minnesota. The citizenship staff provided guidance and assistance in navigating the complex process.
“That’s my American family,” Ethel said about the Institute staff.
Now that her citizenship status is official, she’s focusing on her future. Separated from her adult son who lives in Liberia, Ethel dreams of visiting him and traveling more easily with her citizenship status.
“Americans don’t leave their citizenship behind. I will try to visit,” she said. “I’m praying to do it. Every night, I pray to God. I call (my son). He’s still my baby. That’s my whole life.”
The power of civic engagement and freedom
Ethel’s journey from immigrant to U.S. citizen highlights the transformative power of embracing and creating a new home. Her resilience, determination, and unwavering hope in a better future keep her going.
As a new citizen, Ethel looks forward to exercising her right to vote. Her passion for politics drives her to be an active participant in shaping her community. When she has the chance to enter a voting booth, she says “I’m going to be really, really happy. I’m going to be into it.”
“My vote speaks a language,” she continued. “My vote says this is our right.”
Since 2001, the International Institute of Minnesota has filed more than 17,000 citizenship applications, giving our clients the legal rights, protections, and permanency of a future.
We are able to provide our services with the help of donors like you.
Between now and July 4, your donation will be matched up to $45,000 to our New Americans Campaign, dollar for dollar. With your support, the Institute can continue providing invaluable resources, guidance, and legal assistance to Minnesotans through the steps to becoming a citizen of the United States of America.
Reported and written by Alisa Blackwood, Communications Manager at the International Institute of Minnesota. Alisa’s work at the Institute comes after years of writing for publications and organizations such as The Associated Press, O, The Oprah Magazine, TravelandLeisure.com, Health and more. She hopes her writing about Institute clients, students and staff bring to life the stories behind the news headlines.