For years Iris Mabel Flores, 17, has traveled with a US Passport.
As a minor, the Honduran native automatically became a US citizen the moment her father — Juan Flores, who's from El Salvador — became a naturalized citizen. Other than that, she had no proof of being a citizen.
But that became an issue when the student at Valley Academy in Granada Hills started to apply for college. The University of California, Riverside — where Iris hopes to study medicine — requested proof of citizenship.
So Iris finally decided to apply for a US citizenship certificate, which confers all of the rights and responsibilities of a natural-born US citizen on children or adults.
This past Monday, April 24, she finally got it.
“It’s very exciting. Even though I was a US citizen, this makes it official," she said. "I feel free. Like I can achieve more. They can't prevent me or tell me anything because now I have the certificate.”
She added she felt “bad” when asked to prove her status.
“It made me put on the shoes of people (who are not in the country legally). It also made me very grateful that I am a citizen,” Flores said.
“Now I feel more relaxed. They can’t discriminate against me anymore.”
Her father, who came to the ceremony, also knows the importance of that certificate.
“When she turns 18 she can vote,” Juan said.
Iris was one of 30 children to officially get their naturalization certificates during a special ceremony at Mid-Valley Public Library in North Hills.
During the event, which featured minors from 11 different countries, all raised their right hands and were sworn in. In Monday’s library ceremony, 11 countries were represented in total Armenia, El Salvador, Israel, Mexico and the Philippines among them.
Susan Curda, Los Angeles District director for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), praised the efforts of the parents in getting these children their citizenship.
“You’re lucky because your parents did all the work," she told the youngsters. "They left their home countries and everything that was familiar to give you better opportunities.”
Unlike adults who must pass an exam to become citizens, their children become naturalized the moment their parents do. But to get their certificate proof of their citizenship, they must apply for the document.
Increase in citizenship application
Citizenship applications have surged, in part due to the anti-immigration rhetoric of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and election.
According to USCIS, between October and December 2016, a total 239,628 applied for citizenship nationwide, and 112,640 were approved.
That’s comparatively higher than the same period a year ago, when 187,635 applied, and 156,979 were granted citizenship.
In Los Angeles County, figures in October-December 2016 show 6,432 applications and 3,072 approvals. The year before, there were 4,347 petitions filed and 3,933 were approved.
Ruth Seid, West Valley Area manager for the Los Angeles Public Library, said all 73 LA library branches feature a Citizenship Corner with books, videos and other resources to help legal residents with the naturalization process.
Some libraries — including Mid Valley — feature citizenship classes.
“We make your dreams come true,” Seid said.
Getting Citizenship for Her Daughter
Monday was a dream come true for Courtney Nicole Frederick and her daughter, Diamond Rose Gonzalez.
At age 15, Frederick fell in love and ran away with her boyfriend. The couple took their love across the border and ended up in Mexican State, not too far from Mexico City.
But things turned ugly when her boyfriend became abusive.
"I had to get out and had to run to the US Consulate,” said Frederick, 20, who was born in the United States but did not have a US passport.
Her daughter, Diamond Rose, was born in Mexico. Even though Diamond could become a US citizen through Frederick, her mother had not registered the daughter with the consulate or followed any other procedure necessary to make it official.
After convincing consulate officials of her US citizenship, Frederick received an emergency 7-day passport and temporary documents for her then 1-year-old daughter. She also called her dad and asked for money for the trip back to the United States.
“I was on a bus for three days to Tijuana and then they (my parents) came to get me,” said Frederick, who relocated to Santa Barbara. “I still have the bus ticket.”
All the turmoil Frederick and Diamond went through three years ago was rewarded Monday, when Diamond, now age 4, raised her right hand, and was sworn in as a citizen.
She was one of the youngest to officially get a naturalization certificate.
“I started tearing up because it’s been something really hard,” Frederick said, after the ceremony. “I’m trying to fight for her.
“I still haven’t been able to put everything in order. I don’t have an education or much else. But (citizenship is) one thing I don’t have to keep fighting for.”