As the topic of illegal immigration dominates news headlines and social media, what’s often not discussed is the thousands of legal immigrants gaining U.S. citizenship every day. This year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will welcome more than 757,000 naturalized citizens into the country, many of them essential members of the Phoenix community.
For fifteen years, Carmen Mercedes Exposito Fernandez has been part of EPI-HAB’s hard-working assembly team. As of this summer, she’s now part of much more having become a U.S. citizen. It’s the conclusion of a life chapter that began with her arrival in the United States from Cuba 16 years ago.
“I chose to come to the U.S. because I consider this great country to be the best in the world—where you have the right to enjoy life, freedom and happiness,” she explained.
Looking for a job with a hand-labor focus, Carmen was drawn to EPI-HAB. She’s stayed with the company because of its collaborative and encouraging culture. “I enjoy the pleasant atmosphere with my coworkers and being able to count on the support and understanding of the organization’s leadership,” she said.
As the years at EPI-HAB stretched on, Carmen continued to dream of becoming a U.S. citizen. It took hard work, mountains of paperwork and dogged persistence to finally realize her dream this summer.
In addition to filling out numerous documents and applications, getting fingerprinted, and passing a background check, Carmen passed a U.S. history, geography and civics Q&A alongside a reading and writing English competency test.
The questions are challenging, even for those who are born in the U.S. According to the USCIS, 92 percent of applicants pass this test, but only about two percent of Americans who are born citizens can pass the test without studying for it.
For Carmen, the long hours and effort were well worth it. “My big dream was to become a U.S. citizen because this country gives you all the possibilities of having a dignified life where respect for human rights prevails,” she said. “You can achieve everything you set your mind to by working hard.”
That hard work paid off on July 23 when Carmen joined around 80 other immigrants in pledging their allegiance to the American flag and promising to fulfill the following duties:
- Support and defend the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the United States against its enemies
- Give up allegiance to any other nation or sovereignty, and renounce hereditary or noble titles, if any
- Provide military or civilian service when called upon by the government to do so
After swearing the oath in unison with others, Carmen proudly became one of the newest citizens of the United States. A witness to this seminal moment was Torrey Rogers, EPI-HAB’s assistant general manager. “This was my second ceremony,” Rogers said. “The feeling of pride and patriotism was strong. Everyone attending was excited and patiently waiting. It was a big honor Carmen asked me to attend. She worked hard to become a citizen.”
With her new rights, Carmen can now apply for a passport, vote and even run for office.
“The EPI-HAB organization couldn’t be prouder of Carmen,” Rogers said. “Her dedication, determination and enthusiasm embody everything it means to be an American.”
In her spare time, Carmen enjoys cooking, sewing, browsing stores and dancing.
“I like living in the U.S. because we have the freedom of expression and religion, job opportunities and human rights are respected,” Carmen said.
For Carmen, another life chapter begins, marked by a new start, secure job and opportunities ahead.
About EPI-HAB Phoenix, Inc.
EPI-HAB brings more than 60 years of experience and energy to fulfillment, assembly and inspection, full-service bulk mail processing, and storage. The organization was founded in 1958 when a group of business and medical professionals came together to provide meaningful employment to individuals with epilepsy. As the medical industry made strides in the control of epileptic seizures, EPI-HAB (Epileptic Habitat) welcomed individuals with other challenges. Over the years, EPI-HAB has always focused on the abilities of its employees, not their disabilities. Its team performs valued work for businesses, large and small, assisting them with a wide variety of jobs.