The promise of America is the opportunity to pursue happiness, not happiness itself. But yesterday, America delivered a happy ending to one of its newest citizens.
Carlos Fernando Jaramillo, who spent the last decade battling the threat of deportation because of a drug arrest, became a full-fledged American during a naturalization ceremony at the Chester County Courthouse.
"I feel great, totally, totally awesome," a beaming Jaramillo said after the ceremony. "I feel relieved. The pressure is off."
Jaramillo, 42, of West Chester, came to the United States from his native Colombia when he was 8 months old. In 1996, he was arrested when he applied for citizenship because of a prior drug offense.
In 1989, Jaramillo sold $40 worth of cocaine to an undercover police officer. A 1996 law made an immigrant's prior crimes cause for deportation. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people whose crime preceded the 1996 law could have their cases heard by an immigration judge, who could weigh the crime against the rest of a person's life.
In March, at a deportation hearing during which both the policeman who arrested him for the drug offense and the judge who arraigned him spoke on his behalf, the deportation order against Jaramillo was waived.
All that was history yesterday.
"I was brought up the right way and made one mistake in my life," said Jaramillo, who jokingly told reporters that the stress of the ordeal had caused him to lose his hair. "It's over now. I always considered myself an American, and now I really am one."
Wearing a black suit and patterned silver tie, Jaramillo, who goes by "Charles," runs a home-improvement business. During the ceremony, he stepped forward to receive his citizenship certificate, a tote bag full of welcoming gifts, and a pink carnation. Cheering him on were several relatives, including his wife, Laura; his son, Jaime, 22; his daughter, Priscilla, 20; and his sister, Diana.
Jaramillo, who noted proudly that he had achieved a perfect score of 100 on the citizenship test, said he planned to ask the governor to pardon him for his drug offense. "I want to wipe the slate clean," he said. "It would mean a lot to me."
Taking a cue from Chester County Court President Judge Paula Francisco Ott, who presided over the ceremony, Jaramillo said he intended to exercise a fundamental right and duty of citizenship by immediately registering to vote.
He and his wife plan to celebrate in the spring by taking a 10-day cruise to the Caribbean.
"Now I can go anywhere where I want, and I don't have to worry about being deported," Jaramillo said.