July 22: Twentyfour-year-old Vijai Shree has lived in the US since she was four months old. She holds a “green card” which permits her to stay on in the country. Her parents, Mr Sunder Rajan and Ms Shakuntala, are American citizens. Though they were not born in America, they have lived there for a long time and the US government has recognised them as naturalised Americans. That is, the government will protect them in the same manner that it protects its local people. And they get the same benefits as any other American citizen.

But the Rajans are angry at the government today, says a report in ‘The Times of India’. They are angry because the US government is refusing to make their daughter a permanent citizen of the country. The department that deals with these matters is the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS), which is flooded with thousands of applications of people who want to become US citizens. And its reasons for denying citizenship to Vijai Shree are very simple. She is not taking an oath of allegiance to the country.

Anybody applying for citizenship must take an oath of allegiance to the country. The oath is basically a promise to remain loyal and true to the country. A person seeking citizenship must raise the hand, nod the head, or repeat the oath when it is read out.

It is not that Vijai Shree does not want to take the oath. She is just incapable of doing so. The young woman suffers from cerebral palsy.

The Girl who Failed the Citizenship Test [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
The Girl who Failed the Citizenship Test [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]

This is a disability resulting from damage to the brain before or during birth. A person with cerebral palsy cannot speak or move limbs with coordination. Vijai Shree cannot walk or talk or move around without a wheelchair. All she can do is move her head, smile, blink and stick out her tongue. Her doctors say that she has the mental level of an infant and requires constant medical care. She lives with her parents and needs their attention all the time. Yet, the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service is clear that she cannot become an American citizen.

Vijai Shree’s parents are angry that she has no country to call her own now. She has no home, and no protection from the US government.

Now Vijai Shree’s parents have done what every American is good at doing. They have filed a lawsuit against INS. The lawsuit accuses the INS of violating a rule that says the government must not discriminate against anybody because of her or his disability. It is called the Rehabilitation Act of 1977.

If they win the case, Vijai Shree’s parents won’t receive any money. They will receive something far more important . They will get another chance for their daughter to become a citizen of the US. After all it is the country which has given her the only home she knows.

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Filed under: world news
Tags: #americans, #disability, #citizens

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