Posted: 02/06/2013 04:50:18 PM MST
By Nancy Lofholm
The Denver Post

GRAND JUNCTION When Anton Kilpa raised his right hand and became an American citizen Wednesday, the Ukranian chemical engineer did so after five years of flipping burgers, cleaning chimneys and driving trucks while working his way through the complicated citizenship process.

He was still clutching his citizenship certificate and a tiny flag when he weighed in on one of the frontburner issues roiling his new country immigration reform.

Reform proposals include a path to citizenship for as many as 11 million immigrants who did not come to the United States legally as did Kilpa and the 17 other new citizens who took their citizenship oaths Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Grand Junction.

"I am of two opinions.The first kind of finds me a little bit negative. I had to go through all the proper ways to do this," he said. "The second is that being a citizen makes me want something better for this country. If you look at this from the perspective of them (undocumented immigrants) paying taxes and stuff and being able to get educations and buy real estate, it could be good for the country."

The upwards of 7,000 immigrants who will become citizens in Colorado this year have good reason to feel ambivalent about the possibility of citizenship for those who came to the country illegally.

As new citizen Sheri Andrews put it, "It's a very difficult thing for the people who come here legally. I have very mixed feelings because of that."

After Andrews met and became engaged to an American businessman working in China, she had to wait a year to get a visa to join him in the United States. The couple had to hire an immigration attorney to help with a process they said was enormously complicated even though they had no complicating factors.

When Andrews had her interview in the Chinese embassy, she had amassed about 30 pounds of paperwork that she had to haul to the embassy in a duffel bag.

To become a citizen applicants must be in the country for a minimum of five years. That time can be shorter if they are married to a citizen. They have to prove they are of good moral character; that they can speak, read, write and understand English; and that they are knowledgeable about American government and history.

The test to prove the latter would be a challenge to most native-born Americans.

They must also pay a $680 filing fee simply to begin the citizenship process.

Some of those who became citizens Wednesday said they had to go through a series of visas over a period of many years. Those included work permits, student visas, special skill visas and hardship waivers to finally get to the point where they could stand before a federal magistrate and hear him declare, "this has not been and was not meant to be an easy journey."

For Brunella Gualerzi, it was a 23-year journey. She came from Italy on a student visa, switched to a work visa when she finished her education and eventually married an American before she was able to complete the citizenship process. She said she believes citizenship should be streamlined for those who earned it through the legal route as well as for those who might fall under amnesty provisions in reform measures.

"The process is so hard. I think it's absurd," said Gualerzi, who is well known as the owner of the Il Bistro restaurant in Grand Junction. "It should be easier for people who offer a lot to this country."

Immigration by the numbers

Nationally, about 680,000 immigrants become citizens each year.

-In Colorado, 7,805 new citizens were naturalized in 2011 and roughly 7,700 in 2012

- Of Colorado's new citizens in 2011:

-1,658 worked in management or professional jobs

-1,059 were unemployed

-29 served in the military

-1,056 worked in service jobs

-2,048 came from Mexico

-329 came from Ethiopa

-318 came from Vietnam

-260 came from India

-251 came from China

-85 came from Iran

-5,294 were married

-476 were over the age of 65

New citizens have mixed feelings about amnesty for illegal immigrants - The Denver Post