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Japanese woman finally gets to be U.S. citizen

POSTED: September 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Tom Reed/The Times

Izumi Igarashi, with the help of her husband, Suekichi, holds up her citizenship certificate after a ceremony Thursday at New Horizons North.

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Izumi Igarashi cannot speak. But her joy in becoming a U.S. citizen was clear in the smile on her face and the tears in her eyes as she was sworn in Thursday at New Horizons North in Gainesville.

Igarashi was naturalized in front of her friends, family and teachers after waiting 10 years to become a citizen.

About 60 people gathered to cheer for Igarashi and celebrate with cake and punch. All of the nurses at the facility dressed in red, white and blue, and Igarashi wore a sequined tiara in the colors of the American flag.

Igarashi immigrated to the United States from Japan in 1972 with her husband, Suekichi, and son Kazunobu.

Eighteen years later, Izumi Igarashi suffered a stroke that left her unable to speak, said Igarashi’s citizenship teacher, Juanita Adams.

Despite the odds, Igarashi was able to become a citizen.

"It’s a great joy. I’m glad. Ten years we’ve been waiting, and I think everybody’s happy," said longtime friend Kei Taira. "She made a good effort. We are so sorry she got in the condition now."

Igarashi was able to take her oath of citizenship at her home instead of a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office because of a program known as "homebound interviews." If a person is disabled and cannot physically leave to take the oath, federal officials will travel to them, said District Adjudication Officer Roger Williams.

Williams said he has been working on Igarashi’s case for about five years.

"I enjoy doing it because it really feels good to see the expression on their face and the joy in the hearts when they become a citizen," Williams said. "It was a fantastic gathering, all her friends and family as well as the staff of the facility to set this up."

Though Igarashi lost the ability to speak after her stroke, she communicated during her citizenship interview by nodding yes or no to answer questions, and as her legal guardian, her husband signed her name for her.

Suekichi Igarashi applied for his wife to become a citizen in April 1998. He became a citizen that year, but because of the many disability forms needed to process Izumi Igarashi’s request, her naturalization process has taken much longer.

Adams, who has taught English to and befriended the Igarashis, said she was relieved to finally see Izumi Igarashi get naturalized.

"Today was amen after waiting this long," Adams said.

Adams said she has known the Igarashis for more than 10 years, when she started teaching English to Suekichi Igarashi at First Baptist Church.

"He came to the English class when she had the stroke," Adams said. "He wanted to write thank you notes for the outreach people had given him for his wife."

Evelyn Perry, who also teaches at First Baptist, said Adams has persistently fought for Izumi Igarashi.

"This has been a 10-year process, and she (Adams) has not let go of it."

Though Suekichi Igarashi still does not speak much English, he expressed his gratitude.

"My teacher has helped Izumi and I," he said.

Izumi Igarashi has been through many trials to become a citizen, and Supervisor Adjudication Officer James Hicks said he is not happy about the waiting period.

"We don’t like the see them wait longer than they have to," Hicks said. "But we always see the tears in the eyes and know we brought happiness."



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