59-year old Manuel Lara Lopez has been a legal U.S. resident for 20 years, immigrating to Texas from Mexico like many immigrants to seek a better life. After being diagnosed with severe intestinal cancer, Lara pronounced his “dying wish was to become a U.S. citizen, and that wish was granted this week in his South Austin backyard.”
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agreed to come to his home and administer the citizenship exam ahead of his scheduled Jan. 2011 test date. After passing the exam, the USCIS granted Lara his Christmas wish by naturalizing him the following day — a rare occurrence. Marilu Cabrera, a spokeswoman for the agency, said, “because of his condition and it being so close to Christmas, we wanted to conduct a ceremony as soon as possible.” The Austin American-Statesman described the scene:
With his wife, two sons, grandchildren, other relatives and friends applauding, Lara proudly held up his certificate of citizenship and a small American flag as he sat at a table in his backyard. He waited until every camera had recorded the moment before he put them down.
“He talked about it for a long time,” said his wife, Adelina Hernandez Lara. She wiped tears as she spoke of his love for America and the bittersweetness of his dream finally becoming a reality so late in his life. [...]
“I wanted to be buried in the United States,” he said.
After the ceremony, Lara pronounced himself “muy feliz” (very happy). Watch it:
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, who administered the oath, “applauded the immigration agency for making it possible. After giving the oath, he said, ‘It’s a great day for America.’”
For decades, Lara worked in restaurants around Texas, cooking Mexican food for customers. He told the media that receiving U.S. citizenship was an important lesson he wanted to impart to his Mexican-born sons, who he hoped would follow his example and “learn from Papa.”
Lara’s story — which is representative of millions of undocumented immigrants who come to America — highlights the need for comprehensive immigration reform. As Andrea Nill notes, the process of legal immigration and naturalization in the U.S. is unduly burdensome and restrictive. With reform, perhaps more hard-working and responsible immigrants can achieve Lara’s Christmas miracle.
Promising to take up a comprehensive immigration bill in the next Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said, “I think you’re going to be surprised…I think we’re going to make some progress.”