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Sackets Harbor resident, born in Kyrgyzstan, becomes American citizen Thursday


An American dream several years in the making came true for Kyrgyzstan-born Sackets Harbor resident Chinara B. Peroha, as she became a U.S. citizen Thursday in Syracuse.

“I see a lot of doors have opened for me,” Mrs. Peroha said. “Everything was about ‘I could do this now.’”

Her citizenship comes after years of waiting and some congressional assistance after her wallet that contained her green card was stolen from her car last year.

“Without that, we’d still be waiting,” said her husband, Michael T. Peroha.

The Perohas told their story to the Times on Friday afternoon. They have three daughters, Jasmine J., 8, and Lily L., 6, along with Raushan, 23, who was born during Mrs. Peroha’s first marriage and later adopted by Mr. Peroha.

Mr. Peroha, who grew up in Ballston Spa, is a civilian employee of Mission and Installation Command at Fort Drum. Kyrgyzstan, in central Asia near China, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, has a population of about 5.5 million and is about as big as South Dakota.

The two met in 1999 at a cafe near the port of Jebel Ali, Dubai. The ship of Mr. Peroha, then a merchant mariner, was undergoing rudder repairs at the pier, while Mrs. Peroha was visiting her sister Aigul, who worked as a beautician there.

“When I saw him, I liked him,” she said.

Despite not speaking each other’s language, the two started to see each other more regularly, and Mr. Peroha used his leave to meet again with Mrs. Peroha in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, where she had lived since age 17. He practiced his Russian with a computer program, and gave Mrs. Peroha a Russian-to-English dictionary.

“There was a lot of feedback, a lot of motivation and a lot of reward,” Mr. Peroha said of the language studies.

The two married in Bishkek in October 2002, and lived in the country for five years, with Mr. Peroha working as a civilian contractor serving American dining and then construction operations at Manas Air Base. Hoping for more security and better schools for their daughters, they moved in 2007 to Buffalo, where Mr. Peroha was able to land temporary work with a nearby Internal Revenue Service call center, while Mrs. Peroha worked at a Macy’s.

However, Mr. Peroha’s position was not renewed in fall 2010, and after 14 months of unemployment, the family moved to Sackets Harbor after he landed the job at Fort Drum.

Things were going smoothly for the Perohas as they settled into their new home when Mrs. Peroha’s car was broken into in the village in October, with the thieves taking her wallet that had her green card inside.

At the time, Mrs. Peroha was seeking work, and found an opening at J.C. Penney Co., Salmon Run Mall. However, she was not able to take the job when the store learned it could not use a photocopy of her green card.

With concerns developing about potential furloughs at Fort Drum affecting Mr. Peroha’s pay, the couple said her inability to work came at the worst possible time.

“We needed her working, but she couldn’t,” Mr. Peroha said.

Though Mrs. Peroha had been waiting for years to become eligible for citizenship, immigration officials told them her green card would have to be replaced at a cost of about $300 before she could officially seek citizenship, which would bring fees of about $700.

“We don’t have that kind of money laying around,” Mr. Peroha said.

Limited in their options, they sought out the Watertown office of Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh. Explaining their situation, the Perohas filled out a statement about the theft, and submitted an application for both a green card and citizenship. After receiving approval for citizenship and a denial for the green card replacement, the Perohas said, the congressman’s staff straightened out the differences with the paperwork, setting up Thursday’s ceremony. In the meantime, Mrs. Peroha passed her language and civics tests, the latter with a perfect score.

On Thursday, she joined 44 other immigrants, representing 29 countries, in becoming U.S. citizens.

Mrs. Peroha said she was inspired by the words of the judge who oversaw the ceremony that they could provide inspiration for future generations with how they made the most of their new home.

“It depends on you, about how you act,” she said.

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