- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Humayun Mirza was born in British-controlled India, is the son of Pakistan’s first president, has traveled on three different passports and studied many countries as a World Bank diplomat. But when his diplomatic visa was due to expire and he needed to decide on a permanent passport, his choices came down to U.S. or British citizenship.

He pondered his time in both countries and thought about where he’d put down roots, and picked the U.S., and on Wednesday will take the oath of citizenship with about 50 others in Baltimore.

“In America, everyone is treated alike, regardless of background or ethic origins — you do not have to be somebody to be respected; you have to earn it. This you will not find in any other country in the world,” he told The Washington Times. “I have lived happily in this country for sixty years and have raised a family here. I consider it to be my home. So I will take the oath of allegiance to the United States with pride on April 8 and will consider it an honor to be an American.”

Amid the fights over border security, illegal immigration and President Obama’s policies, the legal immigration system continues to churn out citizens — the one area of agreement for all sides in the debate.

Nearly 780,000 people were naturalized in 2013, with nearly 13 percent of those coming from Mexico. The next-highest country was India, with about 6 percent, topping the Philippines, which had been No. 2 in previous years.

A revamped citizenship test that is supposed to get closer to the core of being American, a push by immigrant-rights advocates to turn their constituents into voting power and an ever-larger immigrant population have fueled the surge of citizenship applications.

SEE ALSO: Immigration agency says original amnesty still approving Dreamers’ applications

But for each of applicant, the decision is individual.

Mr. Mirza was born in India when it was a colony of Britain, and didn’t even have a birth certificate — though he did come from a privileged family, with his father becoming the first Indian to graduate from the British version of West Point, eventually serving as India’s defense minister and then Pakistan’s president.

After military coup ousted his father, Mr. Mirza — who had studied in London, where he got a British passport, went to Harvard University for a graduate degree and ended up at a temporary job at the World Bank in Washington — was warned by the new government to stay away and keep quiet. Thus began a decadeslong career with the World Bank.

He lived in the U.S. on a G4 visa, which is granted to employees of international organizations based in the U.S., such as the World Bank, the U.N. or the International Monetary Fund. And when he became chief of the bank’s mission in Nigeria he gained the rank of ambassador.

His travels to other places, ironically, helped cement the U.S. as his home.

“The way you are treated when you come to the airports here — the immigration authorities do they’re job,” he said. “If you go to another country, you go to Pakistan or India, the immigration authorities make you feel, ‘We are in charge, you do what we want.’ Here they treat you like a human being. These are little things that add up to an atmosphere of openness and freedom that’s hard to replicate.”

When he applied for status in the U.S., Mr. Mirza ran into another hiccup: He’d never had a birth certificate, which is one of the requirements. In fact, the only way he knew his own age was because his mother meticulously recorded names and births of her children in a book.

The citizenship test itself was thorough but fair, he said, praising his examiner for her questions testing his knowledge of the Constitution.

If anything, he wished the test was harder, both in knowledge it required of American civics and history and in assessing an immigrant’s ability to read and write English.

“One should be able to at least read and write a paragraph in order to qualify,” he said, adding that to him, the U.S. is an English-speaking country and the government should insist citizens strive to meet that goal.

He also said he didn’t mind the lengthy, probing application form.

“The fact that the United States is arguably the most desirable country in the world to live in, it is important to identify, as early as possible, those who may be a burden to society,” he said.

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