A Queens man who once faced deportation as a teenager was sworn in as a U.S. citizen Thursday, ending an 11-year fight to stay in this country.
“It’s very special,” said Mohammad Hussain. “I have come a long way and I am finally accepted.”
The Pakistan native took the oath wearing the uniform of the FDNY. Hussain, 30, has served as an EMT for more than a year.
Hussain was first ordered to leave the U.S. in 2003, when he was just 18. The order was issued after Hussain registered voluntarily with the federal government under a security program put in place following the 9/11 attacks.
The so-called "special registration" program led to the deportation of more than 13,000 people, according to Hussain's lawyer Elizabeth OuYang. None had ever been accused of terrorist activity.
“The only home I had ever known was here,” Hussain said. “So when they said you have to go back, it struck me really, really hard.”
“He is not here to hurt us. He is here to help us,” said OuYang.
Hussain had traveled to the U.S. at age 8, just as his mother was dying of cancer. After her death, he lived with his uncle, a local doctor in the Queens community of Hollis, falling in love with basketball and all things American.
"I say I am an American. I’m a Muslim-American," Hussain said in the documentary "Whose Children Are These?" which chronicled his legal battle.
Three years after the deportation order was issued, Hussain won a reprieve: he was granted political asylum in the U.S., his lawyer said. Then, about a year ago, he joined the FDNY, fulfilling a dream to serve the community he loved.
"I just like helping people, and what better way to give back," Hussain said.
His struggle ended officially Thursday when he became a citizen.
"I really feel proud that this day came true," said Hussain’s uncle, Dr. Kamal Ahmed. "I had made a promise to his dying mother that I would always take care of him."
"I am so glad that our government ultimately viewed and judged Mohammad on an individual basis," added OuYang.
"You just can’t paint everybody with the same brush," said Hussain.