ORLANDO — Shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday, in the packed auditorium of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services headquarters in Orlando, Haeder Alanbki raised his right hand and took the oath.
His two-year-long journey was over.
He was now an American.
"I am so happy for this moment," Alanbki said. "I am going to write a book called 'How to Be an American," about my long journey to get here."
Alanbki, 36, is an interpreter who risked his life helping U.S. forces in Iraq and then fought for two years to become a U.S. citizen.
Now living in Orlando, he said he was stabbed four times and shot while serving with U.S. forces in Iraq. Soldiers who served with him said he was facing certain death back home and had a $25,000 bounty on his head. His brother, also an interpreter, was killed while serving with U.S. forces in Iraq.
Two years ago, Alanbki came to Florida ago as a permanent legal resident under the Special Immigration Visa program, created to bring those who helped U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq into the country. The visa requires stringent background vetting. In addition, once here, Alanbki received four security guard licenses from the state that required vetting and had additional background checks to get into the National Guard.
Still, he couldn't win approval for his request. Last year, at a naturalization ceremony at Fort Benning, Alanbki was pulled out of line and told he wouldn't be receiving his citizenship that day even though many soldiers from other countries did. He has been waiting ever since, checking his status online routinely to no avail.
Last month, Alanbki sued the government, claiming he was being denied citizenship due to a shadowy vetting process called the "Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program'' which secretly blacklisted him as a national security concern despite having passed numerous background checks.
His story was featured in the Tampa Bay Times on July 16. Within a week, his request finally was approved.
This is a developing story.
Stay with tampabay.com for updates.
Contact Howard Altman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.