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In the mind of a new American Citizen; TAMUG professor gains citizenship

By Alinoe Roussie, '22

Crossing Oceans, adapting to new cultures, most Americans either descend from peoples or themselves have gone through those life events. On January 16th 2019, Dr. Ozlem Sisman, a political scientist at Texas A&M University at Galveston that possesses an expertise in the Middle Eastern world and capitalism, went a step further and took an oath to United States. Dr. Sisman became an American and joined the large family of naturalized citizens that have been growing at an increasing rate since 2015.

The first part of the journey begins when Dr. Sisman, then a PhD student, traveled to the United States from Turkey to attend Harvard University. However, before her journey to the United States even began, Dr. Sisman already had a strong interest in this country. “What America does and American policy is a very big determining factor in the Middle East,” explained Dr. Sisman, “So even when I was a university student, I was already following United States foreign policy.”

Unlike many US immigrants, Dr. Sisman did not imagine establishing the rest of her life in the United States. After her time at Harvard University, she spent time in the United States networking and continuing her studies. Dr. Sisman later decided to go home to Turkey. “Now that I am an academic,” Explained Dr. Sisman, “maybe there is something that I can give back to my country.”

However, her journey back home did not go as expected. “I spent one year there, I did my research, I published some articles and then I realized that I had gotten used to the [American] living standards, living culture. […] I was one of those people who thought that this was not the country that I was born and raised into.”

Dr. Sisman is born Turkish and believes that her country is going through “a big exodus from secular highly educated people” because of an “Islamization and very high and very vulgar nationalization in Turkey”. When asked if she still feels turkish because of what is happening, she expresses the idea of being “a global citizen rather than citizen of a place or citizen of a nation. I always consider myself as a kind of cosmopolitan” but states how important US citizenship was to her with the value of the American passport being much higher than the Turkish one where “more than 100 countries” need visas and having her entire nuclear family already being citizens.

While Dr. Sisman didn’t come here to stay, ultimately many reasons pushed her to do so: “First of all, I can publish and write anything I want, I have full academic freedom which is the most valuable thing for my career. Also, my kids are getting a better education and have access to better resources for now and for the future in their lives,” stated Dr. Sisman, “These are very important things that makes us stay here rather than going back and continuing our life in Turkey.”

Applying for any legal status can reveal itself to be a very tedious process often involving lawyers but not for Sisman: “For me it was very straightforward. I didn't have any difficulties at any point of my application,”. Since Sisman entered the country as a student and got a green card after marrying a naturalized American citizen, it felt normal to her that one year after applying - “a short period of time” according to people she talked to - she got her interview. Though with such a curriculum it may seem like it would indeed be an easy task, luck may have been on Dr. Sisman’s side, “I think Texas is one of the states with immigrants applying in huge numbers for green card or citizenship. It makes much things longer and I have a friend, another Turkish friend who is married to another Turkish/American woman and we applied exactly at the same time and he still hasn’t gotten his interview.”.

One thing Sisman thinks hasn’t affected the process is Trump’s administration, to her, the only minor impact could have been the partial government shutdown. But according to a very recent policy brief from the American Immigration Lawyers association (AILA) published after Dr.Sisman’s interview, that isn’t a shared experience: the average waiting time for any type of legal status application has surged by 46 percent over the last two years and by a factor of two in the last 5 years from 4.96 to 9.48 months. Those delays are mainly due to understaffing and the increase in security checks especially in the last two years. It has lead to a more than 100 percent increase in delayed case in the span of the last recorded fiscal year (2016-2017 compared to 2015-2016). Though Texas is, like Dr.Sisman said, an enormous hub for legal status application, her waiting time probably could have been much shorter in a different political climate and though her legal status was already stable with the possession of a green card, many others have been increasingly struggling not to become illegal aliens in a country they believe, like Sisman, to be “much more comfortable” then wherever they come come from.