Thursday, September 16, 2004
Citizens, at last
After years of waiting, a family from Bangladesh has its 'glorious day'
By John Johnston
Enquirer staff writer
They arrive early. Sharif Haque and his wife, Dilruba Rahman, have come too far and waited too long to risk a last-minute glitch. This is one of the most important days of their lives.
They enter Room 842 of the Potter Stewart Federal Courthouse, downtown, with their sons, Sameer, 16, and Mahir, 10. Long burgundy drapes, dark wood panels and paintings of judges lend an air of formal dignity to the room.
Dilruba Rahman, of Sycamore Twp, receives an American flag after becoming a U.S. citizen at the Federal Courthouse.
(Enquirer photo/STEVEN M. HERPPICH)
The boys look spiffy in coats and ties. Their father is casually dressed in an open-collar shirt. Their mother wears the hijab, or head scarf, common among Muslim women.
The naturalization ceremony begins with the pounding of a gavel. U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy S. Black enters the packed courtroom and welcomes those assembled to a special session of the United States District Court.
The naturalization ceremony begins.
"You have traveled a long road to reach this proud and solemn moment," the judge says.
"Citizenship is a glorious possession representing as it does the dreams and the aspirations and the struggles of the centuries. It is perhaps the greatest honor which this nation can bestow. And it is bestowed only on those who are worthy."
Tracing the road traveled by Sharif Haque and Dilruba Rahman leads to Bangladesh, a poor Asian country, much of which floods annually during the monsoon season. It is home to 140 million people.
MOMENTS OF LIFE
This is the 10th story in an occasional series that documents moments that connect us. We welcome your suggestions. Contact John Johnston at 768-8516 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Find previous stories in the series at Cincinnati.Com, keyword: moments.
The couple's decision to leave their homeland was not borne of personal hardship. In fact, both came from well-to-do families in Dhaka, the capital. Both attended medical school there, and became doctors. They practiced their Muslim faith, praying five times a day. They lived a privileged life, with their own gardener, cook, driver and cleaning person.
But when it came time to start a family, they worried about raising children in a country ravaged by natural calamity and rocked by political instability. They wanted their offspring to be educated in the best schools. In American schools.
"We wanted to give them a better life," says Dilruba, who is 42.
They turned to her brother. Muhit Rahman had come to the United States as a teen and earned degrees from Yale and UCLA. He became a U.S. citizen and settled in Los Angeles. He helped the couple begin the immigration application process 16 years ago, just before their first son was born.
Then the long wait began.
During roll call, naturalization officer Marjorie Norman asks the 75 petitioners to stand, one by one. Each states his or her name and country of birth. Australia. Ethiopia. Ireland. Jordan. Nepal. Senegal. Syria. Vietnam.
Thirty-six nations are represented. Including Bangladesh.
Upon arriving in America in 1999, Sharif, Dilruba and their sons lived briefly in Los Angeles with Dilruba's brother. A father of three, Muhit wanted to relocate to a family-friendly city. He chose Cincinnati.
Sharif and Dilruba eventually bought a modest house in Sycamore Township, in the highly respected Indian Hill school district.
In order to practice medicine in this country, they would have to study for and pass a tough medical licensing exam. Then they would have to fulfill the five-year residency requirement of new doctors. That likely would mean uprooting the family.
"It's not practical," says Sharif, who is 48.
Dilruba earned a registered nurse license and recently began working in University Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. Next year she will get a master's degree and become a nurse practitioner. Sharif works as a medical technologist at the hospital.
Regrets? "No, we always look forward," Sharif says.
Deputy clerk Florence Ebert asks the 75 men and women to stand and raise their right hands. Then she administers the oath of allegiance. Each person vows to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Dilruba and Sharif and their boys had lived here just over two years when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred. They felt a mix of horror and sadness that day. In the weeks that followed, there were reports from around the country of Muslims facing backlash. Dilruba's concerned mother called often from Bangladesh, wondering if they were OK.
She needn't have worried. Many of their new American neighbors stopped by to check on the family. Dilruba, Sharif and their boys went about their daily routines without incident.
Their biggest challenges involved adapting to a new culture. In that regard, children adjust quicker than adults. Sameer and Mahir love it here. And that makes their parents happy.
Judge Black reads a congratulatory letter from President George W. Bush. Then the judge surveys dozens of faces, a mix from all parts of the globe, and proclaims, "Today is a glorious day."
The crowd spills out of the courtroom and into the hallway. Dilruba and Sharif take time to fill out voter registration forms. Her brother and his children have come to share the moment.
Years of waiting have ended, but a smiling Dilruba finds it difficult to put her feelings into words.
As soon as she gets home, she knows what to do. In prayer, she offers thanks for this day, her first as a U.S. citizen.
Facts about naturalization, from the U.S. Census Bureau:
In fiscal year 2002 (which ended Sept. 30, 2003), 573,708 people became naturalized U.S. citizens.
That year Mexico contributed more than any country, 76,531, followed by Vietnam (36,835), India (33,774), the People's Republic of China (32,018), the Philippines (30,487), Korea (17,307), the Dominican Republic (15,591), Jamaica (13,973), Poland (12,823) and Ukraine (12,110).
Until the 1970s, most people naturalizing were born in Europe because country quotas in immigration laws favored those countries. Between 1976 and 1995, Asia was the leading region of birth among people naturalizing. North American countries took the lead from Asia in 1996. Since 2001, Asia again has been the leading region of naturalizations.