Alva Review-Courier -

Proud, patriotic citizen anxious to vote for the first time

 

October 9, 2016

A NEW CITIZEN – After living most of his life in the United States, Humberto Avila can proudly say he's a U.S. citizen.

For many people, turning 18 means being able to vote in their first presidential election. Alva's Humberto 'Bert' Avila waited much longer for that privilege.

Avila, who was born in Mexico, legally came to the United States at the age of 6 years. His father, who had been a police officer in Mexico, left the country first to provide a better life for his family.

"All of his family were pretty much already here legally," Avila said. "He was working to get his family over here."

Avila obtained permanent resident status as a 7-year-old in Long Beach, California. That meant he received all the freedoms of natural-born citizens – almost.

He could work at any job available. He could attend public schools and pursue any career he wanted. However, every 10 years in order to maintain that status, Avila had to be fingerprinted and photographed.

That inconvenience didn't bother him half as much as the one freedom he most wanted – to vote in local and national elections.

The Journey to Citizenship

The Avila family left California, moving to Burlington, Oklahoma, where the father began working for Ross Kasparek.

During his fourth grade year, Avila's father began working for Woods County's District One and the family moved to Alva.

The late Stan Holt tried to recruit the elder Avila for the police department.

"Dad said that's what I went away from; he didn't want to get back in," Bert said.

As patriotic residents, Avila's brother, Joe, joined the Marines. His sister served for eight years in the Army and married an Army pilot. After high school, Avila enlisted in the Marines but was rejected because of a potassium deficiency.

"I wanted to be a lean, mean fighting machine," he said. "I wanted to be gung ho; go where the action was at."

That gung ho attitude admittedly got Avila into trouble at times during his youthful years.

"It was hell on my mom and dad," he said.

Through his young adult years, Avila crossed paths with law enforcement a few times – most times the result of excessive drinking.

"I knew what I did wrong," he said. "I started clearing my mind. I paid my dues and started learning from my mistakes. I know ... you can't just go out and do everything you want without repercussions."

"The things I've done back in high school and after high school, kind of played a role in not getting my citizenship the first go around," Avila said.

When Avila's family moved away, he knew it was his responsibility to make the Avila name respectable. To him, that included becoming a citizen, participating in his home community however he could. That had to start by being able to vote.

"The only reason I didn't do it back in high school, I was used to living life as a permanent resident. I was legal on every aspect," he said. "I never cared to vote because I was on a different track."

After maturing, marrying and controlling his alcohol consumption, he knew he needed to take the next step to become a citizen and begin paying back all that had been given to him. He desperately wanted his kids to be proud of him.

"I felt like the U.S. gave me what we have today," Avila said. "That's why people want to come here to live the life we live. There's a lot of freedoms here that typical Americans take for granted."

His wife, Kristina Avila, said, "He's more patriotic than many Americans."

He prepared to take his citizenship test. Anxious to vote, he registered.

Arriving at the polling place, he carefully read the fine print on the ballot which said, "I swear I'm a United States citizen."

Knowing he had not reached that status, he immediately left the voting area, called the election board, explained what happened and had his registration shredded.

When he went to his first citizenship hearing, he answered all the questions put to him about the government, reading and writing in English, and proving he could speak the language.

"I passed all the questions before it came to one that asked if you had registered to vote," he said.

Bert explained to the examiner that he had registered, not voted, and had his registration withdrawn.

"When she heard that, she pretty much denied my application and the hearing was over," he said.

After two weeks of anxious waiting, Avila received the official letter saying his application for citizenship was denied.

"That tore me up," he said, his dark eyes filling with tears at the memory. "I was upset, angry. I couldn't understand why."

Twelve years later, he decided to hire an immigration attorney and try again. He got every public record available that pertained to his life. The election board provided him a certified letter on official letterhead stationary explaining the earlier misunderstanding.

"There were no open cases on me. I had no felonies. I'd paid my dues, been punished and cleared," he said.

Avila hired an immigration attorney to represent him, hoping to enhance the process. He met with the attorney who told him to not go to the hearing because of some errors in the paperwork.

After putting out a large sum of money for the attorney, Avila felt defeated.

"I didn't know what to do," he said. "I did everything I was asked to do, but the attorney told me not to go."

He stood in the parking lot weeping angrily.

"I still had my legal status, but after not attending the hearing, I lost," he said.

The immigration office scheduled another appointment. This time, Avila decided he would take total responsibility for his own case.

He gathered every document he could find dealing with his life in the United States. Again he was advised by the attorney not to attend the hearing, but he disregarded that advice.

"I went and answered all the questions," he said. "I explained myself and with every question I showed documented proof. My meeting went well."

He was told he would be notified by mail of the decision.

During the waiting period, Avila and Kristina decided to get married. They went to the courthouse to get their marriage certificate. When it came to answering the question if they were both U.S. citizens, Avila was unsure of his status. It had been seven months and the anticipated letter still had not come.

Explaining his dilemma to the district attorney, they left the courthouse with that box unchecked.

Later that day, the phone buzzed notifying him of an email from the district attorney's office. When he looked at the email, there was a picture showing his status as "U.S. Citizen."

He was elated. He called his parents and immediately went to his wife's place of work to give her the good news in person.

The letter came telling him to show up for the naturalization ceremony on July 29.

On Friday, July 29, 2016, Humberto Avila finally became a United States citizen. He proudly carried his flag and pledged allegiance to his country along with all others who became new citizens this day.

On Monday, August 1, 2016, he headed to the election board office and registered to vote.

Unfortunately, his legal process continued.

Sometime during his lifetime in America, his mother's maiden name was added to his name as is customary in Mexico. His citizenship paper said Humberto Avila Lopez. He had signed his normal signature as Humberto Avila.

Immediately, he hired another attorney to legally change is name to Humberto Avila.

"I just got my Social Security card with Humberto Avila on it," he said. "Now my next step is to get my CDL Class A. Then I'm going after my carry and conceal permit."

"The sky's the limit on anything I can do," Avila said. "I can participate in any government organizations in my community. I can acquire a government job legally."

Officially becoming a citizen hasn't changed the person everyone knows as Humberto Avila.

"I've always helped my neighbors," he said. "I didn't care if they were white, black or whatever. I've always helped everybody."

As a kid, Avila faced prejudice from students who called him a wetback.

"They didn't understand what my status was," he said. "They thought I was illegal. My friends all thought I was a citizen."

Through the years, many people in Alva had a positive impact on his life, and making his path to citizenship possible. He named Eddie Kletke and Glenna Mae Hendricks as the top of that list.

This November for the first time in his 50 years, Humberto Avila will go to the polls and cast his ballot for president of the United States, state officials and state questions.

"It's going to be a tough one," he admitted. "I've had my favorites before, but none of them are perfect – now more than ever."

"Now I've got the voting power to try to make a difference for the youth, the elderly, for everybody," he said.

Avila already does what he can to improve life for those around him. In addition to working full time for Wheeler Brothers, he is a member of the Downs Bikers Association of Enid and the Outback Chapter of Aline who raise funds for toys for kids.

THE NATURALIZATION PROGRAM – Humberto Avila holds the program from the naturalization ceremony held July 29, 2016.

"Anywhere that I can help, I like to participate," he said.

Sometimes the realization of his citizenship overwhelms him.

"I don't have to check in every 10 years now and get fingerprinted and a mug shot," he said, wiping his eyes.

Avila is very passionate about his country. Protests against the flag and the national anthem anger him to the point of not watching certain people on his favorite teams play pro sports.

"Just when I thought there was no more hope, there's always a little crack there where somebody reached down and gave me hand up and advised me to keep going," he said. "There were times I wanted to quit, but I've had pretty good people that have helped me a great deal."

With his voice cracking, Avila said, "A person can look tough on the outside, but on the inside ..."

 

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