111-year-old Iraqi woman is 'newest American citizen'
Posted: Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 08:50 PM UTC
Sterling Heights — U.S. District Court Judge David Lawson approached Warina Zaya Bashou as she sat on a small chair in her living room Friday and said "How are you? It's nice to meet you."
Family members translated, and she replied in her native tongue: "God bless you."
The judge then asked her, "Are you prepared to become an American citizen?"
"Yes," Bashou said, through one of her interpreters. After a quick ceremony on Friday at her home in Sterling Heights, Bashou, 111 years old, was sworn in as a U.S. citizen.
Bashou is reportedly the second oldest person on record to be naturalized, according to Marilu Cabrera, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Services. A Turkish woman who was 117 when she became a naturalized American citizen in 1997 holds the record.
"Let's welcome our newest American citizen," Lawson told the gathering of family members and the media at the ceremony's end, which sparked a round of applause. The judge also presented Bashou with an official certificate of citizenship from the U.S. government.
Bashou, who is Chaldean, came to the United States in 2003, said Pam Shammami, 51, of Washington Township, a family member who served as one of the judge's interpreters during the swearing-in ceremony. She was born in 1900 in a small village north of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city.
Chaldeans are the indigenous people of Iraq. Most are Catholic and speak a form of Aramaic, but many also speak Arabic. Many have been forced to flee Iraq because of ethnic and religious persecution.
The largest Chaldean population outside Iraq is in Metro Detroit, where an estimated 121,000 Iraqi Catholics live, according to the Chaldean Community Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group.
"God bless her," said Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce and publisher of the Southfield-based Chaldean News. "It's a proud day for all of us. She can share in what many of us have treasured, and that is the beauty of being an American."
The Citizenship and Immigration Services' Detroit Office naturalizes about 1,000 people a month. At least two or three times a month, the agency conducts swearing-in ceremonies like the one for Bashou at new citizens' homes because they have health issues or difficulty getting to its office in Detroit, officials said.
Shammami said Bashou realized she is getting older and wanted to become a U.S. citizen.
"She's getting up there in age," she said. "We asked her if this is something she wanted to do and she said yes."
Bashou is thrilled to be a citizen, Shammami said.
"She's very happy," she said. "This is something she wanted to do for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren."