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Colombian native, Airman becomes U.S citizen

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Candy E. Miller
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
In April 1997, at the tender age of 10, Maria M. Mena-Caicedo tragically lost her mother after she was shot at their family owned restaurant in Colombia. 

That tragic event led her to come to the United States, and through many hardships, she was able to overcome and reach her goal of becoming a citizen. She was naturalized Feb. 29 and changed her name for easier pronunciation, becoming Airman 1st Class Maria M. Mena. 

Mena's stepfather was lost two years earlier and the rest of the family had moved to the United States to make a better life for themselves than they could in Colombia, so after her mother's murder, she and her two younger half sisters were left without family in the country. 

The three little girls moved to the U.S. with a 12 month visa and took several attempts to legalize their status. 

In order to get her a green card, her father had to go to Colombia and recognize her as his daughter. Airman Mena didn't receive her green card until 2005, eight years later.
"It is really an honor to be a U.S citizen, to know my family and kids are going to grow up to serve this great country," said Airman Mena. 

Airman Mena decided to join the Air Force in March 2007 for the financial stability.
One day, while Airman Mena was on the virtual Military Personnel Flight, she saw an article about the president making changes to the Immigration and Naturalization Act to make it easier for military members to become United States citizens. 

The changes in Sections 328 and 329 allowed lawful permanent residents in the military that have served honorably in the U.S. armed forces to become naturalized. The individual must have served for at least one year and served during an authorized period of conflict. 

"It opens up a lot of doors," Airman Mena said. 

As a civilian, she would have had to wait until 2010 to become a citizen, because the law requires a civilian to have their green card for at least four years. Also, there is no fee for military members to apply. 

Airman Mena said she filled out the four forms required and sent them in November eager to get some feedback. She received a letter at the end of December that informed her she had an interview Feb. 29. 

Airman Mena said at the interview she was asked who the first president was, on what date do we vote, who is the head of the executive branch and seven other similar questions. A couple hours later, Airman Mena was sworn in during a ceremony, officially making her a U.S. citizen. 

"I am so excited and now I am going to register to vote," said Airman Mena. 

The new U.S. citizen said citizenship gives more rights to an individual than a green card does such as voting, traveling outside the U.S. for an extended period of time, and applying for government jobs. 

Airman Mena said she thinks military members who are not already citizens should make an effort to become one. 

"It's a very simple process if the steps outlined are followed, just prepare for the test," said Airman Mena, "and we're the armed forces, we should already be prepared." 

Military members should already know most of what was on the test, because they should know about the country they're serving, said Airman Mena.
"Other countries aren't like this country," she said. "In Colombia there was a lot of violence. It is an honor to say I am a U.S. citizen, it's an honor."