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Law enforcement student becomes U.S. citizen

Submitted Photo Students from the Minnesota West Law Enforcement Program attended the citizenship ceremony of classmate Abu Saada last month in Sioux Falls, S.D. Shown is Rachel Schumann (from left) Michael Summerfelt, Reyad Saada, instructor Mark Holden, Abu Saada, Joel Walerius and Patricia Wheeler.

WORTHINGTON -- Walking through the halls at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington during a busy school day, it is easy to spot the students who are part of the law enforcement program by their uniform.

"Every time I see a person wearing the blue shirt and black pants, I think, 'There goes a member of my family,'" Abu Saada said with a smile, glancing down at his own uniform.

Because of that feeling, several of Saada's fellow law enforcement students made a point to attend the Feb 19 ceremony in Sioux Falls, S.D., that made him a U.S. citizen.

"I consider it an honor to become an American citizen," Saada stated.

Born in Ethiopia, Saada, now 22, moved as a small child to Kenya. An uncle that lived in the United States helped his parents emigrate in 1999, so from the time he was 10 or 11 until he was able to join them, Saada and his two siblings lived with another uncle in Kenya. Saada, along with his brother and sister, arrived in Sioux Falls in 2004.

"When you move from one country to another there, you don't think much about schools or things like that," he stated. "You think about getting settled in and surviving."

An upbeat, outgoing man with an easy smile, Saada had little to say about his time in Africa, but lit up when asked about coming to the U.S., which happened when he was 16 years old. He attended Washington High School in Sioux Falls, graduating in 2008.

Furthering his education, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Reyad and attend Minnesota West.

At first, Saada worked at taking his general classes, then realized he wanted something a little different. After a long talk with one of his professors, he signed up for the law enforcement program (LEP).

"Law enforcement is something I have wanted to do since I was a little kid," he admitted with a grin.

"I want to give back to this country what America gave me," he continued in a more serious tone. "I don't like war, I don't like fights, but this is a way I can be in this country and help."

Becoming part of the MN West LEP, was like joining a family, he said.

"I am the only refugee and the only black in the program,, but every student and teacher has made me feel like family," he explained. "Everyone is encouraging, and the teachers, Mark Holden and Mark Murphy, have really helped me out."

They are all, he added, great people.

The program focuses on community policing, which Saada considers essential for a community to have trust and confidence in their law enforcement department. Another primary focus is on work ethics and the ability to remain open minded.

"Everyone has opinions about things, and you have to take what is good (from those opinions) and learn -- the more knowledge you have, the better off you are," he explained. "Being open minded, you can choose to be whatever you want to be, as long as you don't harm anyone.

"In this world we live in, people can choose to do whatever they want, but to be a good worker and a good cop, you have to have a good work ethic. Law enforcement is not here just to arrest people, they are here to help people."

When he started studying to become an American citizen, he had an advantage over those who come to the United States as adults.

"I had taken government classes in high school," he explained, adding that the regular school curriculum also helped prepare him for the citizenship test. "You have to know about the Constitution, past presidents, you have to be able to read and write."

After applying to become a citizen, Saada was given a CD to listen to which explained the requirements and contained other pertinent information. While Homeland Security and the FBI did background checks, Saada studied and prepared for the test.

"There is no time limit you have to study," he said. "They just let you know when the tests and ceremonies are available."

After passing the test, Saada said, many people are nervous about giving up the initial documents that allowed them to legally stay in the country.

"When you become a citizen, you turn in your green card," he explained. "For some it is hard to do."

Replacing a lost green card can cost about $1,000, he said, and some immigrants, used to keeping a close eye on the important document, were hesitant to just hand it over.

Saada and his brother went through the ceremony together, backed by family and a group of Minnesota West students. Their sister is married and lives in Memphis, Tenn., and their parents still live in Sioux Falls.

Saada is in his first year of the 2-year law enforcement program, and after becoming certified, hopes to work in Minnesota. His brother Reyad graduated last year with a degree in social services.