top of page

Madera CHP officer helps 83-year-old Iraqi swear her citizenship

For The Madera Tribune Iraqi Heleen Sarkees, 83, is helped Tuesday morning into The Fresno Convention Center by CHP officer Javier Ruvalcaba. Sarkees was on her way to take the oath of U.S. citizenship when the family car was totaled in a crash on State Route 99 near Avenue 17.


The desire of the 83 year-old Iraqi woman to become a U.S. citizen would not be deterred Tuesday morning even after an accident on State Route 99 totaled the family’s car, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Madera CHP Officer Javier Ruvalcaba said the family from Modesto was traveling south to Fresno for a public ceremony in Valdez Hall at the Fresno Convention Center to take the oath of U.S. citizenship. Almost 900 other immigrants from 54 countries gathered Tuesday to be sworn in.

Traffic on SR 99 had been snarled by multiple crashes that morning as heavy rains passed through the area.

“She sustained minor injuries in the front end crash,” Ruvalcaba said, “but even with complaints of pain to her knee, leg and shoulder she refused all medical treatment at the scene and was insisting she had to get to the ceremony by 9 a.m.”

The family’s older Toyota Corolla was now undrivable and southbound traffic was nearly at a standstill from other minor incidents in the rain.

Heleen Sarkees told Emergency Medical Services and everyone present how her pains could wait and she would seek treatment at a hospital only after she took her oath of citizenship. Sarkees said she had recently just passed the citizenship test, after seven tries.

“This police helped me, helped me too much. God bless him,” Sarkees told reporters as she was ushered into the ceremony in a wheelchair while smiling and beaming.

“I am going to be American. I be happy, very happy to be American lady,” Sarkees said. She immigrated in 2007 because of violence in her former country of Iraq.

“It’s really freedom here (in the U.S.). My country is not free,” she said.

Ruvalcaba said he’d seen a lot of unusual situations with motorists and people in his 13 years with the CHP, but this was a first. Without any family or friends in the Fresno area, the family was stranded he realized and would be unable to make it to the ceremony.

Her urgency to get there and the motivation of Sarkees to be finally sworn in as a citizen was really inspirational and moved him to help, said Ruvalcaba.

“It was really touching. You could tell how much it meant and how very important it was to her. Her enthusiasm and how she put her own pain and suffering aside ... that pushed me to try and make it happen for her. I didn’t know if we could even make the ceremony in time, but she was so delighted to get there.” he said.

Ruvalcaba said he had reached out and received permission from CHP authorities to assist the Iraqi woman make the short but important trip to Fresno. The two arrived at the ceremony with only moments to spare.

bottom of page