'My First Citizenship' A Refugee's Journey from Statelessness to Advocating on Capitol Hill | LIRS
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‘My First Citizenship’ A Refugee’s Journey from Statelessness to Advocating on Capitol Hill

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Refugee and migrant leaders training for advocacy.
Participants at the 2015 Migrant and Refugee Academy during a training session.

This week, I want to share this profile of a new American, Uma Mishra, who can proudly celebrate her ability to contribute to society through the right to vote and actively participate in the larger community.

To Uma, the importance of becoming a citizen of the United States lies in having a say in the way her country is run. As a participant in the 2015 LIRS Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy, Uma honed leadership skills that she can use in mobilizing her community to become more welcoming of immigrants and all the gifts they bring.

In today’s post, Uma shares her inspiring story and her views on the value that migrants and refugees bring to our country. Furthermore, Uma’s story shows us the peace that a sense of belonging brings to new Americans.

I was born in Chirang, Bhutan in 1973. In 1992, the Bhutanese government forced Nepalese families out of the country because they feared that we were taking away resources and were becoming the majority in the country. Some were forced to flee Bhutan, but others were fined or imprisoned.  Many villagers were kidnapped and tortured. Along with other families, my family was lucky enough to survive the journey from Bhutan to Nepal 23 years ago.

My family and I lived in one of the seven refugee camps in Nepal. After 18 years of hard labor in the camp, an opportunity for resettlement brought hope into my life. My family and I applied to resettle in the United States to work for a better life than we had in Nepal. In 2008, our American life began in Chicago. With a limited amount of English, I experienced many challenges. I had some hard times but thinking about how my children have a better opportunity for success than in Nepal made me feel better.

Bhutanese refugee who became a US citizen.
Uma Mishra

Before I became a citizen of the United States, I felt like an outsider in this country. This is my first citizenship in my life, which means a lot to me because I can now be a part of a big community. Also, it means that I have a say in how the country is run. The 2015 LIRS Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy has helped me to better understand my community as a whole. I have learned many skills about being a community leader. Furthermore, this Academy has helped me to realize my personal goals that I want to achieve as a Bhutanese leader.

My experiences in Nepal are very similar to the experiences undocumented immigrants have in the United States. We kept our identification hidden and were very careful and aware when traveling throughout the country.

Here in the United States, undocumented immigrants have more difficulties because the law in this country is stricter than it was in Nepal. I believe that every immigrant, whether they are documented or not, have a right to become a citizen. Every immigrant is here because they want a better future. Some come for protection and others for opportunities. Once the United States sees that we are a good addition to the American community, they will realize that we have a lot to offer.

In over 75 years of experience coming alongside and welcoming refugees and migrants, we have met so many outstanding, dedicated, and talented individuals. Each new American is truly a gift to their community and to us all.

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