Road to citizenship ends at home

TURLOCK -- After years of processing paperwork, studying and waiting, some immigrants receive the joyful news that they've been approved for U.S. citizenship during difficult times.

When Freydoon Alexandrous, who grew up in Iran and lives in Turlock, heard his citizenship request had been approved, he no longer had the strength to attend the naturalization ceremony in Fresno. Heart and orthopedic problems and a recent fall made the 85-mile trek to the Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Fresno impossible.

So Don Riding, CIS field office director, came to him.

When Riding walks into a home, ailing people sometimes too weak to hold a glass to their mouths will sit up straight and greet him as though he were about to guide them into paradise and away from troubled pasts.

"It's fun," Riding said. "I try to do it on weekends so family can come."

Saturday, Riding, who works

out of the CIS regional office in Fresno, visited five homes in Turlock and one in Hilmar. He naturalizes about 1,500 people a month, individually or in large ceremonies.

They have all gone through the same process: filing paperwork, paying fees, proving they are legal residents, undergoing interviews and passing tests that include questions such as "What color are the stars on our flag?"

And they all have different stories.

Yousef Baba Koulan's can be read in the scars across his back. They are part of the beating he took that convinced him Iran was no longer his home. After continual harassment, a horrid beating and spending a year in jail, Koulan persuaded his wife to move to the United States 12 years ago.

"It's always had open arms," he said of the United States, through a translator.

Koulan, 85, and his family were persecuted for being Christians in an Islamic state, he and his wife said. The pain evoked by sharing those memories faded when Riding entered their home and laid before them the final document they'd have to sign in their quest for citizenship. Each signed their naturalization papers with careful hands and concentration.

Koulan's wife, Shoushan Tamraz Lelham, 71, leaned forward to put her weight behind the pen as she signed the document on her coffee table. After her recent bypass surgery, Lelham's doctor told her to avoid travel, which is what brought Riding to her home Saturday afternoon.

Twelve years of residency and waiting had brought them to this moment. Lelham sat up straight and Koulan put down his cane. Each of them raised their right hands and absolved their allegiance to Iran. They promised to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States "so help me God."

And they knew they were free to define God for themselves.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at 578-2382 or ehightower@modbee.com.