BECOMING AMERICAN

Lillian Bookless of Hillsboro is now a proud citizen of both the United States and Canada.
Lillian Bookless of Hillsboro is now a proud citizen of both the United States and Canada.

Today the United States is celebrating its 242nd birthday, and it’s also the day the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

In addition to the U.S. having a milestone event, 20 people from nine countries also celebrated a milestone by becoming naturalized citizens.

One of those 20 people included a Hillsboro woman, Lillian Bookless, who for more than 34 years was a citizen of Canada and had her green card to work and live in the U.S.

As a naturalized American citizen, Bookless said she thinks back on how her parents fled war and impossible situations to find a better life.

“They went to Canada in search of that life,” she said. “Now when I hear of how people with similar backgrounds are being treated, I am beyond disturbed.”

Bookless said she continues to hope and pray for the people still suffering and hopes Americans, which now she is happy to count herself amongst, will set this wrong right.

During the Oath of Allegiance at the Naturalization Ceremony in Wichita on June 29, Bookless said she sat next to a lady in her 20s from Cuba.

“It was a very well done and a very meaningful ceremony,” she said. “The story the lady talked about, who was originally from Cuba, was incredible, and I will always remember what she said about being raised in a communistic country.

“She is now in university with plans to be a psychiatrist, and she will make it.”

Reasons for citizenship

While some people want to be an American so they can have a better education and more opportunities or to escape political turmoil, Bookless said she agreed to talk about the process of naturalization and her own reasons for citizenship.

“In considering to go back to Canada,” she said, “I realized I was going to lose my [green card] status if I did that.”

She added that since 1984, she has had the same little green card—the original one— which means she is a “resident alien.”

One of her concerns has always been to maintain the resident alien status, but once it hits a year outside the U.S., officials see someone as not really living in this country.

“If they were to pull my card, I couldn’t get back in the U.S. where I have one son and his wife in Portland, Ore., and the other in Omaha, Neb.,” she said.

In fact, Bookless said she has had different border officials—U.S. border officials—say to her that they could pull her card.

She said she has noticed and believes the border officials have a new strength in the last couple of years, and they can stop someone.

“I would like to make sure I could come back to see our kids in Portland and Omaha and don’t want somebody saying I only have two weeks that I can stay,” she said.

Although citizenship was something Bookless said she has been thinking about doing for quite some time, how she decided to do it was “quite interesting and quite providential.”

While at a party in mid-December, she said she found herself surrounded by lots of people.

“But standing in the kitchen, alone with a woman who was an immigrant lawyer and herself an immigrant from Africa, spoke to me about the entire process,” she said.

Bookless said she asked her how easy it would be for her to get citizenship in the U.S. while already being a Canadian.

All at once, she said, the wheels started to turn, and she started going through the process.

“I didn’t want to jump into this huge process and then blow it,” she said.

For Bookless, it was about being a U.S. citizen and doing it by choice.

After completing application forms, sending in pictures and paying $750, she made it past the first hurdle.

One of the more interesting parts of the process was when she spoke with a representative from Homeland Security in Wichita.

In addition to getting fingerprinted and having a record of the iris of her eye taken, she also received a booklet to study the 100 questions that could be on her test.

“The booklet provided the answers, but I didn’t know what 10 questions I would need to answer.

“It was all by computer,” she said.

Bookless scored 100 percent on her test.

Some of the questions she was asked to answer included who the governor of Kansas was, which rivers are the two longest in the U.S., and how many people are in the House of Representatives and how many Senators are there.

The answers to the above questions are Gov. Jeff Colyer, the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, 435 U.S. Representatives and 100 U.S. Senators.

Bookless also needed to name her two U.S. senators and the four U.S. representatives.

When she got another letter to come for an interview about six weeks before her ceremony, she said she went through a metal detector, dumped her purse out and saw armed guards.

“The person who interviewed me was a representative of Homeland Security,” she said.

“After answering the questions on the civic test correctly, he picked up my file and looked at it,” she said. “It was just a few pages and behind him was a stack of files with some inches thick.

“The file was less than 10 pages, and he told me he didn’t know when he saw a file that thin.”

That interview took about an hour, and when Bookless asked if she might qualify for citizenship?

He said: I can’t see any reason why this shouldn’t go forward, and it did.

Now a proud American with dual citizenship as a Canadian, Bookless and husband Don have three children: Michael and wife Melissa and their two children, Liam and Finnegan, who live in Alberta, and their other two sons, Daniel and wife Leah, who live in Portland, and Sam and Sara of Omaha.