Off Beat: Helping kids with homework boosts couple’s citizenship bid



The journey to citizenship was a family project for some newly minted Americans.

When the National Park Service teamed up with immigration authorities earlier this month for their first naturalization ceremony in Vancouver, some husband-and-wife pairs and at least one father-son combination raised their right hands together to take the oath of allegiance.

They included James and Lily McInnes of Beaverton, Ore. Turns out they weren’t the only ones involved in the effort.

“It became a family affair,” James McInnes said after the Sept. 17 citizenship ceremony at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

James (who was born in Scotland) and Lily (who was born in Canada) came to this country 13 years ago, he said.

“We had a choice where to live and work. We came here to work, but work opened the door for the opportunities this country holds,” he said. “You can live your dream in this country.”

Since they arrived here, they’ve become the parents of now-10-year-old twins — which was a factor when James and Lily prepared to become U.S. citizens.

“It was interesting,” he said. “The kids were coaching us. You have to answer questions about the country: names, dates, the Constitution.”

“Things like U.S. history,” Lily added.

The twins were learning much of that same material in school, so everybody got to do the homework.

“We studied with the kids, and they’d say, ‘No, mama, that’s not quite right,’” James said. “They were correcting us.”

The family also had a CD with study material on it, James said, and they’d listen to it together in the car.

James said he also had another study resource: “I have a copy of the Constitution hanging on my cube wall at work. It’s an amazing document.”

While the kids helped mom and dad, the coaching wasn’t a one-way street, James noted.

“We helped them with math,” he said.

There was another parent-child element to the ceremony, although it didn’t apply to the McInnes family, since the twins were born here.

Evelyn Sahli, director of Portland’s office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, reminded the new Americans: “Children under the age of 18, here legally, in your guardianship, become citizens, too.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.