Finding home: UM soccer coach’s journey to U.S. citizenship
October 24, 2019Shahid Haque
We recently spoke with Dante Filpula Ankney of the Montana Kaimin about UM soccer coach Chris Citowicki’s immigration journey.
Citowicki’s application to become a citizen did not come without hardships, but it was comparably easier than what other immigrants have experienced in the United States.
Obtaining citizenship has become harder for all immigrants under President Trump and his administration, according to Shahid Haque, an immigration lawyer and founder of Border Crossing Law Firm in Helena.
In fact, during President Trump’s first year in office, there was an increase of petitions filed to become citizens, but the number of people who were actually granted citizenship decreased by more than 40,000, according to the 2017 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.
At the same time, the number of deportations by ICE increased by over 15,000, according to the 2017 ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Report.
Also in Trump’s first year in office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would be repealed, and President Trump instituted an executive order that stopped travel to the U.S. for six Muslim majority countries, as well as all refugees for 120 days.
“You are facing an agency that is looking to deny your case if they can,” Haque said, “and are happy to deny your case if they can.”
According to Haque, marrying a U.S. citizen is one of the easier pathways to attain a green card and become a U.S. citizen. However, applicants are put through interviews that scrutinize the legitimacy of the marriage throughout the process.
When the interview finally took place, he and his wife were separated into different rooms. Citowicki recalls being nervous and unsure of the birth dates of his wife and two kids.
“Oh, my God I hope our answers match on each side,” Citowicki said.
Both Citowicki and his wife agreed that waiting for the green card approval was the most stressful part of becoming a citizen. Those seeking citizenship must have a green card for five years prior to the citizenship process, according to Haque.
After having a green card for more than five years and meeting all other qualifications, it should take 10 1/2 to 16 1/2 months at Helena to become a citizen after filing your paperwork according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Citowicki had renewed his green card once before and would have had to renew it again in 2022 if he didn’t become a citizen. Luckily, he did.
Many immigrants today have trouble obtaining a green card to set themselves up to become a citizen. According to Haque, it is not easy for immigrants to attain citizenship in the U.S. right now, and it’s even harder for refugees.
Refugees are people seeking asylum in another country because they have been displaced by possible persecution, war, or natural disaster in their own country. They have to register with the U.N. outside of their country to become a refugee, according to Soft Landing Missoula’s website.
According to Haque, it is difficult to prove that you are even a refugee in order to seek asylum, let alone start the process to become a permanent resident after you are given asylum.
Immigrants are like Citowicki: people choosing to enter a country on their own accords. They enter the U.S. through a visa that defines the amount of time you are allowed to stay.
Visas, green cards and citizenship all result in a lot of paperwork and headaches for applicants. One small misstep, one missing document, and your case could be denied. That is why, Haque said, an attorney is helpful, though not necessary.
Citowicki said he and his wife spent $5,000 to $6,000 on attorney fees to become a citizen, most of which was spent in the process of getting a green card.
In the end, from taking the first step at an Ontario, California Airport to the ceremony at Great Falls, Citowicki’s process to becoming a citizen took a year and a half.
His personal views on immigration are molded from his experiences growing up — living in a refugee camp as a child, bouncing around the world to find a home.
“People need to be given opportunities to start their lives again if they are coming from a place that isn’t treating them well,” Citowicki said, “and America gives you the opportunity to do that. It’s what this country has been doing forever.”