When did you begin preparing to become a U.S. citizen?
I applied and got my residency status in 2000. I waited about five years before taking (citizenship) classes. For two years, I took classes in U.S. history and English, and then I took the citizenship test on April 28 and passed. On July 3, I stood in a room at the Convention Center filled with more than 900 people, and we all became U.S. citizens. There were a lot of happy people in that room.
Why did you decide to become a citizen?
I decided to be a citizen for my family. I wanted to help my wife establish her residency here, and all of our children are citizens. I don't intend to return to Mexico. In the United States, citizenship comes with its privileges, but ... I wanted to live here without worry. I feel better with the citizenship. No one can take that away from me.
You started getting involved with the Border Action Network about four years ago, and last year, you went to Washington, D.C., to testify before the Senate. What was that experience like?
It was very good. ... We got a chance to tell our story and meet our representatives. Going to Washington and being involved with Border Action, it's what made me want to become a citizen. I learned early on that I have the right to vote as a citizen. The government has used excuses to build that fence, (claiming) that terrorists are coming over the border, but terrorists aren't coming in through the desert. Terrorists aren't losing their lives in the middle of the desert. If Bush wants to put up the fence, fine, but then he should ask himself why he doesn't respect the borders of other countries.
What do you think of your new role, not just as a citizen, but as an activist?
Some people say that ... because I talk about promoting people's rights, that I am an activist. I disagree when people think my work with Border Action is all about working for Hispanics. That's not true. When we go out and talk to people about police, renters, stores and the abuses people experience, this isn't just about Hispanics; this is about everyone. This is for everybody.
What did you think about the Kennedy-McCain legislation? Were you hoping it would pass?
We were very happy for the Kennedy-McCain legislation. The first part gives permission for people from Mexico who want to come to work here, and the other part gives ... people who are already here the opportunity to become citizens. It's a legal and just policy and could probably stop a lot of problems.
Why has it been important for you to get involved with Border Action?
When I was taking my citizenship classes, I was invited to go to a conference they held. I really liked what I heard, especially informing us of our rights and how to work with authorities. A while ago, the police came to my house and entered without permission twice. I didn't realize the Fourth Amendment protected me from letting them come in. ... Now that I've learned more about my rights, it's my duty to go out and teach others. Before I got my citizenship, I felt insecure about doing that. Now I feel good. I feel more powerful, able to be more involved in the community.
What do see in your future as a new citizen?
I think many of us are becoming citizens, and we'll have more power, and we'll want more of a voice. The candidates will know it's a voice they need to listen to. ... We plan to exploit it and vote for those who are in favor of helping legalize immigrants to allow them to work here and live here, and if they want, to become citizens. For my family, I want to focus on helping my wife with her papers, then learn English 100 percent. And then I want to buy a house.