The widow and daughters of a Pakistani immigrant killed by a white supremacist in a 9/11 revenge attack became U.S. citizens Friday, in a touching ceremony which one daughter described as the fulfillment of their father's dream for his children.
"Obviously, he's in our thoughts every day, but especially today," said Usna Hasan speaking about her late father, Waqar Hasan, who was fatally shot at a Dallas convenience four days after 9/11. "It was his dream come true today; it was his dream that became our dream, and it's an extreme sense of accomplishment, of overwhelming joy and gratitude."
Wearing full Muslim hijab, or headscarves and long garments, and with three of the daughters wearing Niquabs, or traditional Muslim face coverings, Duri Hasan and three of her daughters took the oath Friday in a ceremony at the New Jersey office of U.S. Rep. Rush Holt. A fourth daughter became a citizen last week in New York City.
The Hasan family had good reason to want to leave America.
Waqar Hasan was shot in the head and killed on Sept. 15, 2011, as he grilled hamburgers in a Dallas convenience store he had opened earlier in the year. A white supremacist admitted killing the 46-year-old Hasan, thinking he was an Arab, in what he said were a series of revenge attacks for 9/11.
Durree Hasan and her daughters, Nida, Usna, Anum and Iqra, later even faced the threat of deportation as a result of his death.
But the family instead embraced their new home - and their New Jersey community embraced them in return. Their New Jersey neighbors and a congressman viewed them as victims of 9/11, came to their aid and offered them support. The family said they liked the freedoms granted to women in America.
Durree Hasan said neighbors brought food, called, wrote letters, and attended a candlelight vigil in the rain in the days after her husband was killed. She remembers being deeply moved by the elderly, infirm woman who lived next door, who made enormous effort to attend the vigil.
"It never occurred to us we'd have to leave," Durree Hasan said. "It's home life to us; especially New Jersey and Milltown, we never thought to leave, even to another town. It's a very small town, but like a big family; very supportive."
U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, whose intervention in 2004 gave them permanent legal residency, hosted the naturalization ceremony Friday. Holt said he was horrified at hearing of Hasan's killing and then realizing the family was facing deportation.
"It's a story of bravery, perseverance and ultimately, I think it's a story of justice and compassion," Holt said. "Our laws have imperfections, but America continues to strive toward fairness and community and compassion, and that's what you see today."
Mark Anthony Stroman, who was executed last year in Texas, said at the time he shot Hasan and two other South Asian men: "I did what every American wanted to do but didn't. They didn't have the nerve."
Stroman, who had a criminal background dating back to his childhood, was put to death in July by lethal injection for the Oct. 4, 2001, killing of Indian immigrant Vasudev Patel at a gas station. He was charged but never tried in Hasan's murder.
Hasan's family, who emigrated legally, had been living in Milltown, in central New Jersey, when Hasan moved to Dallas in 2001 to search for a home and open a convenience store in hopes of eventually relocating the entire family.
He had applied for a green card, but the application became invalid when he died.
After lobbying for Hasan to be considered a victim of the 9/11 attacks, Holt got a bill passed in 2004 allowing Hasan's family to remain in the U.S. and granting them legal permanent residency. As green card holders for the requisite amount of time, they became eligible to become naturalized U.S. citizens.