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The small office in downtown San Francisco was drab, windowless, awash in fluorescent light and screamed “GOVERNMENT ISSUE”. An old desktop computer sat on the desk, in contrast to the iPad that was stand-mounted like a sentry inches from where I sat, across from the kindly looking Department of Homeland Security officer.

After nearly 20 years of being legally referred to as an “alien” in America — 6 years on a student visa, another 6 years on a work visa and yet another 7 as a permanent resident, well north of 50% of my total existence — it had come down to this, my citizenship interview. The woman sitting across from me would evaluate 20 years of life in 20 minutes and either grant me the privilege of citizenship or reject me back to the status quo of alienness.

They say that America is an idea — not a country bound by tribe, race, caste, religion or ethnicity but instead by sole adherence to ideas and values. They say that America is a beacon, a magnet for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness towards home. The notion was about to be put to the test.