Carl Fictorie talks citizenship process

From his office at Dordt University, where he works as a chemistry professor, Carl Fictorie explains the process of attaining a green card and, later, citizenship.

SIOUX CENTER—Carl Fictorie has long called the United States home, but now it’s official.

Following his naturalization ceremony June 6, he gained citizenship, just in time to vote in the June 7 primary election.

The 54-year-old Sioux Center resident is originally from Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. It’s about an hour from Vancouver and a few miles from the United States border, near Lynden, WA.

Fictorie grew up in a Christian Reformed Church part of the community, going to a K-12 Christian school and church. Culturally, then, he was on good footing for his eventual attendance at Dordt College in Sioux Center, 1986-90.

“My sister went here, and that was about the extent of my thought about going to college,” Fictorie said. “I didn’t even do a campus visit. That was in the days you didn’t do those as often.”

After college, he married Kathy, and the couple moved to Minneapolis for him to go to University of Minnesota for graduate school. Around 1992, he began to consider getting a green card.

“In the middle of graduate school, you start to realize at some point you’re going to have to go job hunting. It didn’t take too much to think that it’d be advantageous to have a green card. Because I had gotten married, the green card process for a married immigrant is not trivial but it is a little easier than the other ways of getting a green card,” Fictorie said. “Since we were living in Minneapolis at the time, there is an immigration office right there, so that made it easier to handle.”

Green cards only have to be renewed every 10 years, with the option to begin pursuing U.S. citizenship after five years of residency within the U.S.

“A green card holder basically has all the same rights of a citizen, for the most part. You can’t vote, you can’t serve on jury duties,” he said. “You have to pre-file and report your address and so on. But for the most part, it doesn’t feel very different.”

He started work as a chemistry professor at Dordt in 1995, where he has remained ever since.

The first time he renewed his green card was in 2003.

He recalled at some point in the filing process being asked if he wanted the citizenship application.

“I remember going, no,” Fictorie said. “Part of that was the kids were little at the time, life was busy, all that kind of stuff, not looking for the extra paperwork. It’s a bit of an expensive application. Then you get into a routine, too.”

Another reason for putting off the idea of attaining U.S. citizenship was Fictorie’s uncertainty about the future, as he wondered if he’d someday return to work and live in Canada. These factors remained true when he renewed his green card again in 2013.

But recently, changes in his life caused him to rethink things.

“Late 2019, my dad passed away. At that point, both of my parents were now gone. My mom had passed away six years earlier. That tie back to Abbotsford is a lot weaker,” Fictorie said.

Although he did apply for a job in Canada in 2019, his children were growing up and moving out.

“One had already graduated and was living in St. Louis at the time. The other one was graduating that spring and indicating she was planning to move to Minneapolis,” he said. “It’s like, OK, does it make any sense to move back to the West Coast if my kids are here? No, that doesn’t make sense to do that. I withdrew from the hiring process and consciously said this sounds much more like the time to begin looking into U.S. citizenship.”

When he heard in 2020 that the fee structure for the citizenship application process was going to be raised soon, it further motivated him to go ahead with it.

“I pulled the application process together,” Fictorie said. “It’s actually a little less work, the citizenship paperwork, than the green card paperwork. Essentially you’ve already been vetted with the green card fairly thoroughly. Now they’re just redoing it, double checking it, basically making sure you’ve been a model resident for that period of time.”

He submitted the necessary paperwork in August 2020, with word that it was supposed to take five months to process. But five months of waiting ended up being nearly two years as, in late April, he finally heard back: be at the Omaha immigration at 10:15 a.m. June 6, ready for the final interview and civics quiz.

“They go through their file and ask you questions. There’s a few things they want to know. They ask you specifically if you’ve ever been a Nazi or a member of a Communist Party. Those are red flags,” Fictorie said. “Have you ever tortured anybody? I was very tempted to talk about dealing with students, but I figured this is a little more formal.”

Soon after, Fictorie was told he passed.

Because the oath ceremony is a separate event, he wasn’t sure when that would be. He was pleasantly surprised, then, when he was told there was one happening at 2 p.m.

“My wife and I went out for lunch and then we came back in time for that,” he said. “The ceremony itself was actually pretty short. It was literally just a bit of information what to do post-oath and then went through the oath itself. Then you’re declared a citizen and they hand you your citizenship certificate, complete and ready to use. You leave the building a U.S. citizen.”

There were about 10 or 12 others there for the oath.

“You’re all sworn in at the same time,” he said. “Sort of like getting an exam back at the end of class, you each get your certificate on the way out. And that was it.”

Voting was something Fictorie hasn’t been able to do for much of his life. As a Canadian living in the U.S., he hadn’t had many opportunities to vote in Canadian elections, and he couldn’t as a U.S. resident. He was excited, then, that he could get his citizenship in time for the June 7 primaries.

“Now, I can have my voice heard,” he said.

With a quick call to the Sioux County Auditor’s Office to confirm he could do so, he completed his primary ballot at Terrace View Event Center the morning of June 7.

“Gaining citizenship makes living in the USA genuinely feel like home,” Fictorie said. “Until then, I was still an immigrant, an outsider, and while I never felt unwelcome, I was never fully settled. Now I am.”