LOS ANGELES — When Vijai Rajan’s parents applied six years ago to have her become an American citizen, they believed it would just be a formality.
After all, they were citizens. So was their other child.
But when their daughter’s application was denied because she suffers from cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, seizures and other ailments that made it impossible for her to take a meaningful oath of allegiance, her parents didn’t take no for an answer.
They went to court. They knocked on politicians’ doors.
Tuesday, their daughter became the first person granted U.S. citizenship under a new law that waives the oath for qualified immigrants with extreme disabilities.
“We’re very pleased to be able to welcome Ms. Rajan as a citizen,” Thomas J. Schiltgen, director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service district office, said at a private ceremony.
Vijai Rajan, who cannot speak and has the comprehension of a 2-year-old, clutched a small American flag and her parents accepted a certificate on her behalf.
“Now, you are an American,” said her father, Sunder Rajan of Anaheim, a scientist and engineer with a telecommunications company.
The 25-year-old woman, who requires 24-hour care, was born in India but has lived in the United States since she was an infant. Her parents are naturalized citizens and her sister was born in Ohio.
“We have always treated her equally, believing she was entitled to the same things that we have,” her father said. “But she wasn’t treated the same by others. She didn’t have the same rights we did.”
The family spent years pressing for a change in law so that she could become a citizen despite being unable to take the oath.
The family gained national attention for their daughter when they filed a discrimination lawsuit this year to try to force the INS to grant citizenship.
“Few Americans have to fight so hard for their citizenship, and I thank the Rajan family for never losing hope,” said Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., who sponsored legislation after hearing about the family’s plight.
President Bill Clinton signed the law this month that will give citizenship to about 1,000 immigrants a year whose disabilities prevent them from reciting the oath but who otherwise qualify.
Caught up in her family’s excitement during the ceremony, Vijai Rajan giggled, laughed and smiled. She held a flag pressed into one hand until her grip failed and it fell.
“I personally believe she understands and knows more than she can tell us. Does she understand the citizenship process?
“No. But when we go on a trip away from home, she knows what home is,” her father said. “Now, she has one.”
Rajan’s mother, Shakunthala, and her sister, Induh Rajan, 29, clutched her hands through the ceremony.
“If you push her over in bed, she gets back up. She will fight you. She will never cry. She has taught us that – to fight,” her mother said. “We fought for her because she taught us that.”
Asked if he believes people in the United States taken citizenship for granted, the father said: “In my language ... we have a saying, ‘Sometimes you have to stand in the sun to appreciate the shade.”’