Naseem Francis and her family have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
As Naseem sits on a sofa in her family’s Somerset home, it is clear how full of gratitude she, her husband Saleem, her son Bernard and her daughter-in-law Jessica are. Not only to God for keeping Naseem safe in Pakistan for so many years before bringing her to the Land of Milk and Honey, but to the community and legislators who rallied behind her to bring her to America.
Naseem became a U.S. citizen on Friday, Nov. 21, in Milwaukee at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds. It was a day she had scarcely dared dream of, but dream of and pursue she did since her arrival in the U.S. in July 2009.
Naseem, who has been learning English at WITC in New Richmond for two years, spoke with the New Richmond News with translation help from her husband and son.
“Every time she looks outside, she is reminded of the freedom in the air,” Bernard said. “She can be free from persecution. She can breathe free and not be worried about any fears nor dangers.”
Naseem looked out at the snowy landscape with a far away look in her eyes. When she turned back, she smiled broadly and said, “God bless America. I love God. I love America.”
It was always Naseem’s and Saleem’s dream that their children would escape war-torn Pakistan and relocate to America, or another country.
As Roman Catholics in a predominantly Muslim country, they lived in danger every day. Christians faced harassment and violence from a growing number of extremists in the country. Taliban fighting was taking place not far from their city and an al-Qaeda leader was captured there in 2003.
Bernard met Jessica while she was studying in Pakistan, fell in love and moved to the U.S. in 2001. He became an American citizen in 2006.
According to Saleem, two of his and Naseem’s children are now Australian citizens, and only one is “left without land.” He lives in Germany and plans to become a German citizen. Saleem became a U.S. citizen in July 2013. Their son Michael became a U.S. citizen just over one month ago.
Saleem and Naseem stayed in Pakistan until all of their children made it out. Once Bernard became a citizen, he began the process of bringing his father and mother to the U.S. Both were interviewed and approved as a couple for permanent residency in 2007.
Saleem received his immigration visa in a matter of weeks, but Naseem's visa was delayed for 20 months. A difficult decision, Saleem was forced to leave Pakistan in 2008 before his visa was set expire.
Naseem’s visa application became lost in the quagmire of administrative red tape, and was pending at the U.S. Consulate in Islamabad for close to two years. Upon repeated inquiry, State Department officials told the family the visa was undergoing “administrative processing.”
During this time, Naseem, who had no last name but will now go by the last name Francis as her husband and son, lived with her widowed mother, divorced sister and niece. In their culture, it was taboo for a woman to visit the market without a man, so she kept a very low profile.
According to Bernard, Naseem lived in Rawalpindi, which is in the the Pothohar region of northern Penjab. Penjab is actually split in half with half being in Pakistan, half in India. In Penjab, unless you are Muslim, you are considered part of the Indian culture, Bernard said. It was a precarious situation for his mother to be in without her husband.
While Naseem waited in Pakistan for her visa to be approved, Saleem, Bernard, her son Michael, and Jessica actively campaigned the legislature and canvassed the community for signatures in efforts to gain help in freeing Naseem. According to a New Richmond News article in 2009, they enlisted the help of St. Anne Catholic Church, U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl and U.S. Rep. Ron Kind. Saleem and other family members sent money home to Naseem to aid in her living expenses.
Finally, in July 2009, Naseem’s case was cleared and her long-anticipated arrival in the U.S. became a reality.
“To her, she got her freedom because Bernard fell in love with an American lady,” Saleem chuckled. Naseem wholeheartedly agreed and said through Bernard that “everything happens for a reason.”
“She was so distressed (while waiting in Pakistan), that she made a promise to God, when she stepped on this free land she was going to kiss the ground,” Bernard said. “And she did. She considers this heaven on earth.”
“Ever since she got the visa to get to this country, she has been thanking God,” Bernard said for his mother. “She considered herself a person without land. This will be the first time she will have a country to call her own.”
The Francis family is pleased to be part of the American melting pot where they can practice their culture freely, Bernard said. Naseem so loves the American culture, that she has decided to pick an American name, and go by Nancy Naseem Francis.
“This country, it just becomes better and better, we have so many ingredients in the melting pot,” Bernard said.
Naseem spoke animatedly, through Bernard, about her overwhelming gratitude toward Jessica’s family, their neighbors and the community.
“The entire community got behind her even though they had never met or seen her,” Bernard said. “That says a lot about the generosity of the American people. She prays God blesses the American people and protects them even more.”
Since coming to Somerset, Naseem said she has enjoyed watching her grandchildren while their parents work, and sharing her culture through food with neighbors and at potlucks. She is especially thankful to her family for shuttling her to WITC for her English classes, where she works very hard, Saleem said proudly.
“She does not give up and wants to keep learning English,” Saleem said.
Jessica is obviously proud of her mother-in-law as well.
“She’s working really hard and is doing really well,” Jessica said. “The citizenship test was not easy, but she never gave up.”
Naseem said she couldn’t believe she passed her citizenship test at the United States Customs and Immigration Services Naturalization Interview Lobby in Bloomington, Minn. She considers the man who passed her “an angel,” Bernard laughed.
Naseem is enamored by the respect she sees children give their elders in America, Bernard said. She is also surprised when people have to stand in lines here, there is no pushing and shoving.
“She values the humanity in America, the value of a human,” Bernard said.
She said America is definitely the land of plenty when it comes to portion sizes. She often says she could be satisfied just by looking at a plate without eating nearly all of it. She is also fascinated by the efficiency and technology of American drive-throughs. But most importantly, she appreciates how law enforcement doesn’t seem to overuse its authority to intimidate citizens.
“They are there to help and protect, which is surprising to her,” Bernard said. “They work responsibly and don’t take bribes. All these things come together and you can be nothing but grateful how the system of life works here. She prays that families and schools raise children so this system of life and values continue.”
Tears sprang to Naseem’s eyes as she said “This Thanksgiving, I am a solid American.”
“Not just in her heart, but legally too,” Bernard said. “We are among the very few lucky families that got out of Pakistan safe and sound and legally.”