Kamar Osei Harris joined the U.S. Air Force last fall for the reasons most service members cite: love of country and sense of duty.
The fact that it wasn't technically his country didn't occur to the Canadian-born son of parents from Barbados and Jamaica.
"I didn't even think of myself as a noncitizen," he said, until he began thinking about becoming a pilot.
Air Force pilots are officers. Officers must be U.S. citizens. So he applied for citizenship, he said, in hopes "of serving my country even more in this way."
Harris, 23, will no longer face a citizenship barrier after he goes to the White House on Friday for a naturalization ceremony.
President Obama has sworn in new citizens on July 4 nearly every year of his presidency, starting the Independence Day celebrations by making the nation's voting populace just a little bit bigger.
The latest citizenship ceremony, Obama's third this year, carries added symbolism. Obama has acknowledged that his efforts to win congressional approval of a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws have failed, and he says he will seek to impose changes through executive orders.
His administration has come under fire from both sides. With more than 52,000 unaccompanied minors apprehended on the Southwestern U.S. border since fall, conservatives contend that inadequate border security has lured them north. Meanwhile, liberal groups fault Obama as the "deporter in chief" for sending home hundreds of thousands of immigrants who cross the border illegally.
In addition to swearing in 25 new citizens Friday, Obama will honor celebrity chef Jose Andres with an award to mark the contributions of naturalized U.S. citizens.
Andres, who was born in Spain and became a U.S. citizen in December, owns popular restaurants in Los Angeles, Washington, Las Vegas, Miami and Puerto Rico.
Obama usually presides over naturalization ceremonies of foreign-born members of the U.S. military. The White House event will include 15 active-duty members from the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy, as well as several veterans, a reservist and military spouses. The group's members are from 15 countries in all.
One participant is Harris, who entered the U.S. in 2006 as the grandchild of a naturalized citizen. Citizenship doesn't automatically transfer to children or grandchildren not born in the U.S.
But Harris lived as if it did. He graduated from high school in Miami and got a degree in economics from Miami Dade College. He lived with his mother, a store manager.
Itching for some independence, Harris enlisted in the Air Force in October. He attended boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and now is assigned to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.
One day he asked a career officer about becoming a pilot. The first requirement was U.S. citizenship; he began his application that week.
"We're going through tough times in this country," Harris said. "I wanted to do my part."
Immigration officials are permitted to expedite the application and naturalization process for active members of the military.
In May, Harris learned that he might be sworn in at the White House with his family watching. His mom, Maureen Harris, yelped when he phoned her in Florida.
"I'm excited to see the president," she said Thursday. "But the most important thing is the pride of watching Kamar become a U.S. citizen."
She wants to apply as well, but has put off tackling the paperwork.
"This inspires me," she said. "If he can do it, maybe I can too."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times