It was just a matter of coincidence, officials say, that a new federal immigration office opened its doors Monday on the eve of the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
But when all is said and done, the fingerprinting and the background checks that will take place inside will make for a more secure United States of America, they say.
The new United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office, with nearly 22,000 square feet of leased space and 50 employees, is billed as a long overdue one-stop, one-size-fits-all immigrant benefits center.
Roughly 35,000 applicants are expected to pass through the building's metal detectors and apply for a host of benefits, chief among them the Alien Authorization Card, which allows them to lawfully reside and work in the United States, or U.S. citizenship, which will allow them to vote and run for most political offices.
The building is at 5650 W. Badura Ave., just south of Interstate 215 and east of Jones Boulevard in the southwest valley, and one of its first customers after Monday's fanfare and ribbon-cutting ceremony was Dany Rodas, a Salvadoran immigrant who submitted to fingerprints and officially applied for U.S. citizenship.
"Honestly, if you want to make a change in the country you live in, you have to become a U.S. citizen," said Rodas, who walked through the Arizona desert for four straight days in 1999 and became a legal resident in 2007. "You have to be able to vote. That's the way you do it. And if giving my fingerprints is a part of it, then I accept it. If it makes this country safer, it's my pleasure."
These days, Rodas works as a frontline supervisor at a major hotel in Las Vegas, he said.
He said the risks and the sacrifices of his journey here have been worth it.
And now his path to citizenship will be smoother with one-stop aid from a host of federal employees, including immigration service officers, mission support specialists, fraud detection and national security officers, clerical and analytical support staff, community relations officers, and even a congressional liaison.
"The beauty of this place is that we're going to do all the processing right here," said Marie Sebrechts, a spokeswoman for the USCIS. "And if you're simply looking for information on what you need or how the process works, all that will be here, too."
The new office, with loads of interview rooms, fingerprinting quarters and a large waiting room, stands in contrast to the former USCIS benefits center on Pepper Lane. Those cramped quarters shrank as demand grew and were no longer capable of handling the thousands of immigration cases each year in Nevada, said John Kramar, Phoenix-based district director, who appeared at Monday's ribbon-cutting.
"The immigration process is different these days," said Kramar, whose district includes Reno, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz. "It's not like the days of Ellis Island, where people just got off a boat and were automatically let into the country. Today's process is much more complicated - but it's much more efficient and secure. And you can bet that 9/11 has played a role in that."
Perhaps the biggest misconception the public has about the system, Sebrechts said, is the difference between nonimmigrants and immigrants.
Nonimmigrants, she said, are usually in the United States on a temporary work visa in a special field, or they're students.
"The immigrants," she said, "are here to make a life for themselves in the United States."
Contact reporter Tom Ragan at tragan@reviewjournal. com or 702-224-5512.