In the summer of 2011, I received a university fellowship to study US-China relations in China and went back to my homeland for the first time in 7 years. As a victim of theft, I lost my green card, and my return was delayed for three weeks as I scrambled around multiple embassies for a letter that states my situation and allows me to get on the plane.
On my return the first week of September, I was detained at the DFW airport for an hour for questioning over my lost green card. It was a frightening experience as the officer grilled me on my reasons for returning to China, asked me multiple times whether I had sold my green card for money, and called into question my integrity as I repeated my story over and over. I remember crying in anger and fear, and wondering whether I would ever be let back into the country again. But thankfully, I was eventually allowed to leave the airport and go home.
I remember watching in horror as the events of September 11 unfolded the next week. In addition to everything else, I realized that had I come back a week later, there was a high chance I would not have been let out of the interrogation room so quickly. Maybe I would not have been let back into the country at all.
I applied for my American citizenship that very month.
I believe that immigrants often have more appreciation of what it’s like to be a citizen of their adopted country. I chose to become an American citizen because I realized that this was not only my new home, it was my only home, and I don’t ever want to fear being turned away again.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to make that choice, and I hope we don’t take that choice away from those who need it most.