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Ventura County

Grandmother Feels Right at Home as New U.S. Citizen

Pledge: A long journey ends as the frail Oxnard woman, who has lived in the country for 25 years, takes the oath in her family's living room.


The judge was late. The translation of the oath into her native Spanish was bad. She couldn't quite hear. And her knees almost gave out at the end of the short ceremony.

But holding up a shaky right hand, 79-year-old Mexican immigrant Maria Coss Garcia was overwhelmed as she stood and pledged allegiance to the country she has lived in for more than 25 years and became a U.S. citizen in her family's living room in south Oxnard this week.

Then she plopped back down on the sofa to rest.

As part of a growing effort to help immigrants who are ready to take the citizenship oath but are too ill or incapacitated to travel to large swearing-in ceremonies in Los Angeles, a federal immigration judge visited Garcia at home Thursday evening. The ceremony, which was attended by a handful of Latino activists who helped her navigate the citizenship process, was over in less than 10 minutes.

"You've done it now, Mom, you've crossed over. You're American now," said daughter Beatriz Rodriguez.

"I know, mija. I'm happy. I can't believe it's over," Garcia said, her eyes filling with tears in spite of her earlier predictions that the day would be like any other.

"This is a very important day for you. Congratulations," Lancaster federal immigration Judge William J. Nickerson Jr. told Garcia after administering the oath.

Representatives of El Concilio del Condado de Ventura, a Latino advocacy group, said Garcia had been trying to become a U.S. citizen for almost five years.

"She didn't think it would happen," said Alicia Flores, citizenship coordinator for El Concilio, which became involved with Garcia's case in 2000. "She had about given up."

Garcia, who turns 80 on July 23, has had a life full of disappointments and was ready for another letdown, Rodriguez said.

"We told her, 'We started this, now we're going to finish it,' " Rodriguez said.

Garcia suffers from arthritis that limits her movements and causes pain in her knees and fingers in cold weather, she said. She cannot walk long distances and struggles to stand for long periods. She had missed several INS appointments, which lengthened the process.

"The good thing is we won't have to go around getting permits anymore," Garcia said. Her fingerprints are worn so thin by age that it took several visits to the INS office to properly record digital reproductions for her citizenship paperwork.

At her age, she spends most days reminiscing, she said.

Born in Mexico in 1922, Garcia was married at 17. Unhappy in the marriage, she eventually separated from her husband and went to live with her other daughter, Alicia Garcia, one of her four children.

During this time, the women bonded and Garcia helped care for her grandchildren.

She remembers those days as happy times when she could move around and care for loved ones.

In the early 1970s, Garcia moved to Oxnard to live with her two children who had moved there. Meanwhile, Alicia developed stomach cancer and died in Mexico.

When Garcia returned to the U.S. after attending her daughter's funeral, her arthritis worsened and today she does not move around much.

With her experiences and hardships, U.S. citizenship seemed like an unattainable dream, she said, holding a U.S. flag left behind by supporters.

After taking the oath, Garcia immediately took advantage of her new rights as an American. El Concilio officials helped her register to vote on the spot.

"I can vote from here," the new Democrat said, sitting on her sofa surrounded by pictures of some of her 18 grandchildren.

With mail-in ballots, Garcia can help elect the next U.S. president, she said.

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