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Battle Behind, Disabled Woman Is Made a Citizen

Vijai Rajan, a 25-year-old Anaheim resident, is sworn in after a new federal law grants exceptions to reciting oath.

November 22, 2000|HECTOR BECERRA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Vijai Rajan, the Anaheim woman who could not become a citizen because disabilities kept her from reciting the oath of allegiance, was finally sworn in as an American during a private ceremony Tuesday morning in Los Angeles.

Rajan, 25, has lived in the United States since she was 4 months old. She has cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Crohn's disease, and cannot say or understand the oath of allegiance, her family said.

For six years, Rajan's family--all citizens--tried to win citizenship for her. Last year, they filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which had asserted that federal law did not allow it to make exceptions to the oath requirement.

Eventually, Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) introduced a bill to correct that. Cox cited Rajan's case as the inspiration. The bill was passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Clinton two weeks ago.

The law could help thousands of severely disabled people win citizenship, said Micheal Hill, a lobbyist for the country's Catholic bishops in Washington.

Rajan's citizenship ceremony took place on the sixth floor of the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles. Rajan was handed a certificate by INS District Director Thomas Schiltgen.

"It was a really emotional happening for this time of year," said Sunder Rajan, Vijai's father. "She might not realize her legacy, but she has helped many, many people."

Sunder Rajan said: "Now Vijai is really and truly one of us."

Cox said he was gratified by the conclusion of the Rajans' fight to win their youngest daughter citizenship.

"It was very easy to be convinced that helping Vijai Rajan was the right thing to do," Cox said in a phone interview from Washington. "What surprised me, however, was that while these circumstances were certainly unique in my 12 years in Congress, there were other members of Congress who had similar cases.

"It is serendipity that the final chapter in this story is written during Thanksgiving week."

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