New citizen feels a ‘great responsibility’ to vote

Published 7:33 am Saturday, November 1, 2008

By Staff
Priest becomes citizen and votes the following day
Staff Writer
Father Miguel Arturo Cabra, the priest at Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Washington, became a U.S. citizen Tuesday. The next day, he registered to vote and marked a ballot at the Beaufort County Board of Elections.
Cabra lived in the United States of America 14 years before becoming a citizen.
Cabra, 39, a native of Colombia, said it is his responsibility to vote.
Cabra’s journey to becoming an American citizen was a long and trying one.
He came to America on a visitor’s visa. An aspiring pastor, Cabra applied for a student visa to attend a seminary in Texas. After being ordained as a priest in the Catholic Church, Cabra was able to apply for permanent residency.
Because of the growing need for Catholic priests in North Carolina, Cabra packed up his bags and moved to eastern North Carolina. The Catholic Diocese of Raleigh directed Cabra to a church in Wilmington, where he was an associate pastor. Then, he was offered a job as the pastor of Mother of Mercy Catholic Church.
Cabra said he is learning much about his parish, which he has been serving for seven years, and the region.
Cabra had to have five years of permanent residency before applying for citizenship. He said he was fully ready to seek citizenship once that opportunity arrived.
Cabra waited eight months between applying for and being granted citizenship. Cabra was not given any timetable for how long the approval process would take. He did not get an update on the approval process until two months ago, when he received a letter in the mail. The letter gave the time and date of his interview with immigration officials.
Prior to his interview, Cabra was fingerprinted at the Raleigh-Durham immigration office, where he applied for citizenship. As part of the process, he was given a booklet with 96 questions pertaining to the citizenship test.
Cabra returned to the immigration office in Durham on Oct. 20 for his approval interview.
Cabra said he was not nervous about the citizenship test, but knew he had to get six out of 10 questions on the test correct. He got the first six questions right.
On Tuesday, Cabra was joined by four local friends at his oath-of-allegiance ceremony, where he was declared an American citizen.
He wasted no time in registering to vote, visiting the Beaufort County Board of Elections the next morning.
Anita Branch, deputy director of the Beaufort County Board of Elections, said she has seen at least two other newly made U.S. citizens vote early.
The elections office has seen a significant turnout of first-time voters this election cycle.
Branch said she helped register a 90-year-old, first-time voter just the other day.
She said that the overwhelming feeling expressed by most first-time voters is that this election is one of the most important ones in the history of the nation.
For Cabra, voting is the highest right given to American citizens.