Welcome to America
Question: I'm American and often speak to people who have just become US citizens. They seem happy so I feel like I'm supposed to congratulate them but I can't help but feel like an asshole, as if I'm saying, "Congrats, now you're one of US!" What do I do here? Is it customary to congratulate someone on becoming a citizen?
Answer: I recently walked past the Brooklyn Courthouse right as a big group was exiting. They were as diverse as a baggage carousel at JFK, dressed to the nines and smiling ecstatically as they broke into groups of two and three. I slowed my pace long enough to get a look at the papers being held up: naturalization certificates. Those being photographed had just become citizens. And they looked happy as hell.
We're in the thick of a divisive presidential campaign, full of anti-immigration rhetoric, and here was a vital step of the American Dream playing out right in front of me. These recent inductees wore their pride and happiness on full display, as did the friends and family members who accompanied them. It warmed me to the core.
I wanted to stop and say something, but knew that it wasn't my moment to share in. Your case is different.
You cross paths with recently-inducted US citizens on a regular basis and have every reason to congratulate them. They've just completed a unbelievably long and arduous application process—one they'd never go through if they didn't want to feel like "one of us."
Consider yourself the welcome wagon and offer up a simple: "Congratulations on your new citizenship!" It recognizes his or her achievement more than "Welcome to America" ever could.