Becoming a U.S. citizen: One legal immigrant's story

Published: Feb. 5, 2013 at 12:17 AM EST|Updated: Mar. 7, 2013 at 12:45 AM EST
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TAYLORSVILLE, NC (WBTV) - From the outside looking in, Yang Lee is a typical American worker, but her story is anything but ordinary.

Yang has worked in the sales aids department at Paul Robert Furniture in Taylorsville for sixteen years. She's been awarded "employee of the month" as well as the "sales ambassador" award for going above and beyond at work.

You could also say she went above and beyond to become a U.S. citizen.

"We had to escape from Laos to Thailand to the refugee camp in Thailand," said Yang, who fled her home country after United States troops pulled out of Vietnam. She says a secret war continued once the troops were gone, and her people were hunted down and killed.

"We were lucky that we didn't meet any enemy soldier that could kill us. We came across places where they had already killed some people and...people were dead," said Yang.

She may have snuck out of Laos, but she didn't sneak into the U.S.

"We are here legally," she said.

Her coworkers, including Lorie Street, were impressed when they heard about how she and her family followed the proper channels to become legal citizens.

"When she told us her story, I thought, this is immigration the legal way," said Street. "I just thought it would be interesting if we could share that to show a different perspective on all the things that are going on with immigration right now."

President Obama is working on a bi-partisan effort to reform immigration, and most of the focus is on illegal immigrants. The President wants to create a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

Some citizens think legal immigration needs reform first.

That includes Jan, a WBTV Facebook fan who came to the U.S. legally.

"The one area that really needs attention is the communication between government entities," she said.

WBTV Facebook fan Cameron agrees, saying the government should "streamline the process and make it cheaper."

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, it can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to more than $1000 just to complete the basic paperwork...and the basics can be difficult to navigate.

Sharmine is also a WBTV Facebook fan who commented, "Legal immigration is extremely complicated and forces so many to become illegal just because they are tired and have other priorities in life after spending 10+ years in the process."

Since Yang came to the United States when she was only eight, she had to wait until she turned eighteen to qualify for U.S. citizenship. Once she qualified, she still waited years before taking the English and civics tests and applying for citizenship. When she finally applied, it only took three months to make it official.

"It feels like you're coming to freedom," said Yang.

Now, she's waiting to see whether the path to freedom will open up for millions of illegal immigrants hoping to join her in becoming legal U.S. citizens.

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