MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It is a new day for about 250 Minnesotans after two naturalization ceremonies took place Wednesday at St. Paul’s Landmark Center.
The oath of citizenship is the final step in a long journey for a group of Minnesotans born in 41 other countries. Each one of them stood as a judge read the name of their home countries.
One of our newest United States citizens is someone who has already been making a difference in the community. Ulicer Sanchez, 28, is a St. Paul firefighter.
He stood alone in representing Belize, but joining him at the ceremony were members of his St. Paul Fire Department family.
“Once I started the EMS Academy to the point I am today, I’ve joined a family of 400-plus members, and they make me feel at home every day,” Sanchez said.
As a Minnesota resident with a work permit, Sanchez was able to join the department in 2016. But U.S. citizenship has always been another dream he wanted to pursue. He moved to America with his parents when he was 10 years old.
“The feelings of being alone when you first come to this country and not knowing … what’s going on, not being able to fit in, that is something I don’t wish on anybody,” he said.
With citizenship comes confidence.
“All those little things that other people could enjoy, I would always be afraid of going out because different laws, different sanctions, anybody could stop you and say, ‘Hey, where are your paperwork,’” Sanchez said. “It’s a confidence booster, not having to look over my shoulder anymore.”
He says until now, he lived with the fear of deportation.
“You can feel safe, you can feel at home, you can go out there and speak what is on your mind,” he said. “Before it was the struggle of always staying in silence, watching where you go, being careful. Deportation was a very big and real fear.”
He told us how much he loves being a firefighter and a paramedic.
“A couple of days ago I had to decompress someone’s chest so they could breathe. All the little things, and the big things, they will change you as you go and really keep you humble,” he said.
Sanchez’s colleagues at Fire Station 8 have great affection for him. Cpt. Dennis Hall has known him for years.
“We support him, and we’re here just to pat him on the back when it’s done and just be happy for him that he got through the process,” Hall said. “It’s absolutely a family.”
Sanchez says he is excited about having the right to vote now, and that he can now sponsor his parents, who also want to become U.S. citizens.