When Sean Correa took the oath to become a U.S. citizen on Jan. 19, he had already been a citizen for over two years. But through a bureaucratic mix-up, Correa thought he was citizen only of the Philippines for almost a year after he became a U.S. citizen.
Correa, a sophomore pre-nursing major at GC, immigrated to the U.S. with his mother and two siblings when he was 4 years old. Correa’s two siblings became U.S. citizens through the naturalization process after they turned 18, a process Correa also planned to start after his 18th birthday.
However, when Correa’s mother, Irene Ortega, became a naturalized citizen in 2015, Correa automatically became a citizen as well since he was still a minor. Neither he nor his mother knew this, though, so Correa began the naturalization process for himself in 2016 after his 18th birthday.
After months of filling out paperwork and assembling required documents, Correa and his mother went to Atlanta to begin filing for his citizenship. They were surprised when the clerk submitting the documents encountered an astonishing hiccup.
“The lady who was filling out the paperwork was like, ‘Hmm, it says here on the system that you’re a citizen already,’” Correa said. “And I was like, ‘Wh-what do you mean I’m a citizen already?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, it says here you became a citizen in 2015 when your mom became a citizen.’”
Correa and his mother then embarked on another few months of paperwork, only to be told that they were on the wrong track and had to start over again. Finally, after two years of trying to become a citizen, Correa was notified that his oath-taking ceremony would occur in January 2018.
Correa’s mother and grandmother drove to Milledgeville to pick him up for the 8 a.m. ceremony in Atlanta, which meant Correa had to wake up at 5 a.m.
“He only got an hour and a half of sleep the night before,” said Correa’s roommate Alex Scudellari, a sophomore political science major. “He was up and out before his alarm, and he was super excited.”
Over 40 nations were represented at Correa’s oath-taking ceremony, which included the pledge of allegiance, a performance of the national anthem and a video message from President Donald Trump.
“That was interesting,” Correa said. “And it was funny because I was looking around, and everyone was like: ‘Oh, God.’”
Correa said Trump’s speech was one of congratulations for coming to America.
“He was saying, ‘We’re welcoming everyone from every single country,’” Correa said. “And I was like, ‘Really? Because I’m pretty sure last week you were talking about the s---hole countries and the s---hole people from those countries.’”
Correa said that being a citizen doesn’t feel too different from being a permanent resident. His former lack of
citizenship presented few obstacles as he grew up; his access to education, including college scholarships, was exactly the same as that of his friends.
But Correa’s best friend and roommate Tate Pointer said he could see a change in Correa when the ceremony was over.
“I think after he was sworn in, it was a huge relief because all of the stress of being told to do wrong steps and being told, at times, they had to restart the whole application process over,” said Pointer, a sophomore marketing major.
“After he came back from the ceremony, he was still the funny and energetic Sean we all knew, but this time his smile was even bigger because his future can now stay in the U.S. forever.”
And now that he is a citizen, Correa’s family can travel with his mother and siblings back to the Philippines to visit extended family.
“Being a permanent resident means you can’t travel to other countries and come back because you don’t have a passport, so you have to stay in America,” Correa said. “My mom has always been talking about going back. Ever since I was a kid, she would say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this family vacation when you guys become citizens,’ so I guess now we can finally do one.”
When he graduates from GC, Correa plans to become a nurse, a career his family inspired him to pursue. His mother has been a nurse for 16 years, and his siblings are in the process of becoming nurses, as well.
“My mom, she’s a single parent, and when we were young, she would always provide for us, no matter what,” Correa said. “And after I saw that, I was like, ‘You’re freaking awesome, Mom, I wanna be just like you.’”