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Military photographer wins three-year battle to become U.S. citizen

Elisha Dawkins: It was a battle for my life

Erick Johnson | 7/3/2014, 9 a.m.
He fought for freedom in Iraq but Elisha Dawkins’ real battle for liberty was on American soil where the 26-year-old ...
Elisha Dawkins celebrated his freedom after become a U.S Citizen recently in Jackson

He fought for freedom in Iraq but Elisha Dawkins’ real battle for liberty was on American soil where the 26-year-old could not get a job or enjoy the privileges that many citizens take for granted.

After three years of clearing his name of serious allegations that could have sent him to jail for years, Dawkins, a Miami Central High graduate and military reserve became a U.S. citizen in a patriotic ceremony filled with deep emotions for the Bahamas native.

It’s a story about the human struggle and redemption. For Dawkins that meant a personal lesson in strength and resilience in facing challenges the American way. A newly-minted citizen, he was cheered by close friends and fellow soldiers during his swearing ceremony in Jacksonville where he currently lives. Dawkins was among 40 new citizens who will spend this Fourth of July weekend celebrating the nation’s 238th birthday.

A TOUGH ROAD TO FREEDOM

But unlike fellow citizens, Dawkins road to becoming an official American was difficult. At times it was an awkward experience for Dawkins who helped fight for democracy in the Middle East while he himself was unable to vote in America.

“It was a very traumatic and emotional time for me,” Dawkins said. “It was a battle for my life.”

That battle began in April 2011 when Dawkins, a military photographer, was charged with making false statements while trying to apply for a U.S. passport in 2006. The charge would be the beginning of a long ordeal that would force Dawkins to put his career goals on hold. It would also bring mixed emotions to Dawkins who served five years in the U.S. Army starting in 2003 before serving as a Navy Reserves Petty Officer for three years in 2008. He served in Iraq for a year and at the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba for about seven months.

But despite his service credentials, Dawkins was arrested and taken to a detention center in Miami. With the charge, Dawkins was unable to obtain his citizenship. But he also faced up to 10 years in jail for his alleged act.

HELP ON ‘THE BATTLEFIELD’

Enter Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-FL 24) who worked with immigration officials and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to get Dawkins released from jail and his name cleared. Dawkins also received emotional support from fellow soldiers and religious leaders throughout the ordeal.

In July 2011 Dawkins' big break came when a federal judge in Miami gave him the option to have the charges dismissed through a 90-day diversion program. A free man, Dawkins then applied for his U.S. citizenship and the rest is history. As an American, Dawkins plans to serve as a licensed nurse in the military. He already obtained an associate’s degree in nursing from Florida State College at Jacksonville. Dawkins was unable to use his degree or find employment because of the charges that were brought against him.

Dawkins said he wants to serve as a naval officer to help injured soldiers during times of war. He said the maturity he gained in the military helped him endure his personal trials in becoming an American citizen.