He pulled open the glass door about 10 minutes after 11 a.m. on a warm Thursday in April, the smile of satisfaction cemented on his face.
Detroit Lions linebacker Steve Longa carried a large manila envelope in his right hand, folded in half, with a few documents he no longer needed inside.
There was his passport from Cameroon, the expired one with the picture from when he was 10 years old just inside the cover. There was his green card from the United States, the one he got a little more than five years ago when he started his naturalization process. And there were the travel documents he needed to see the world — or the parts of it they’d grant him access to, at least.
Longa switched the envelope from one hand to the other and held up the thumb on his right hand as he walked past one row then another of men and women just like him.
He hugged his agent, Wesley Spencer, who flew in that morning from North Carolina to see him. And a half hour later, in a private room inside a two-story brick building a few miles from downtown Detroit, with a dozen or so witnesses looking on, Longa took his oath of allegiance to the United States.
Twelve years after he came to the country as the son of a refugee, and 19 months after his father and best friend, Etienne — the man who paved the way for him to leave his homeland — was killed when he was struck by a truck while crossing a road, Longa officially became an American citizen.
“It hasn’t been smooth,” Longa said later that day in April, as he waited on a plate of duck bop hash at a local Detroit eatery. “But I am fortunate enough that I’ve got to this point cause some people have been waiting a lot longer. Although it hasn’t been smooth, I am happy with the way it went. I’ve learned a lot through this process, watching my dad go through it, my mom go through it. I thought it was just going to be something that’s cool, go in and do it. I didn’t expect all the emotions to hit me like they did.”
For years, the Longas talked about returning to their native Cameroon for a family trip, something that wasn’t possible until everyone became naturalized.
Longa’s father was the first to get his citizenship in 2016, about a year before his death. His mother, Caroline, got her citizenship last year, and his sister, Rosine, is scheduled to get hers later this spring.
Longa said a family trip to Cameroon is still in the works for next winter — “Hopefully February, you know what I mean?” he said — though when the time comes to make it, he’ll do so with a heavy heart.
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SOURCE: USA Today, Dave Birkett