FARGO — When Kjersti Armstrong took her U.S. citizenship exam in May, one of the computer-generated questions asked her to identify North Dakota’s U.S. congressman.
It was a no-brainer for the native of Norway, who is married to Republican Congressman Kelly Armstrong.
“No matter what else happens in our life, we’ll always have that,” Rep. Armstrong said with a laugh.
Kjersti Armstrong and nearly 160 others were sworn in as U.S. citizens in Fargo on Tuesday, Sept. 14. Four separate naturalization ceremonies, with about 40 people per session, were held at the Sanctuary Events Center, under COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Armstrong joined citizenship candidates from 43 countries, including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Canada, Egypt, India, Iran, Peru, Somalia, South Africa, United Kingdom, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
The candidates live in 19 different North Dakota cities and towns and on the Grand Forks and Minot Air Force bases.
U.S. 8th Circuit Judge Ralph Erickson presided over the last two ceremonies, administering the Oath of Allegiance. He told the new citizens that while this was "their day," it's actually more important to the collective of the United States.
"This is true because the lifeblood of America has always been immigrant blood," Erickson said.
Rep. Armstrong, who also addressed the group, said he could relate to their experience because his wife was among them.
"Today is unique for us as we finally get to call each other fellow citizens. Now I have to earn her vote," the congressman said.
The day before the ceremony, Kjersti Armstrong said she was excited to be in a room with many people who’ve put a lot of effort into choosing to be American.
“That’s special to be a part of,” she said.
The two met on Day 1 of her arrival in Grand Forks in the early 2000s as part of a law school exchange program between the University of Oslo in Norway and the University of North Dakota.
Upon seeing her, he told a friend that law school had just become “a lot more interesting.”
“I pointed at her jokingly at the time and said, ‘I'm gonna marry that girl,’” he said.
“The rest is history,” she added.
They began dating soon after and when she went back to Norway at the end of the semester, they kept their transatlantic relationship going.
“It was challenging. A seven-hour time difference and students’ budgets for travel, so we put a lot of effort into making it work,” she said.
They would be engaged for a year and get married in Norway in 2004.
Along the way, he earned his law degree and she earned Norwegian and American law degrees.
Kelly, 44, and Kjersti, 42, have two children, 13-year-old Anna and 11-year-old Eli, and the family lives in Bismarck.
Kjersti Armstrong could have become a U.S. citizen years ago, after they married, but would have had to relinquish her Norwegian citizenship to do so.
While the U.S. allows dual citizenship, she said Norway only OK'd it as of a year and a half ago. “This is how long it took through the COVID delays to get to the citizenship ceremony,” she said.
Of Kjersti, Rep. Armstrong said having a relationship with and marrying someone who grew up in another country has allowed him to see other cultures and viewpoints.
“She’s made me better at everything I do in my life but ... specifically when it comes to policies and immigration and those types of things, I think it's been helpful,” the congressman said.
Rep. Armstrong said making the legal processes surrounding immigration and citizenship a little less cumbersome would be beneficial to everyone.
Even though both he and his wife have law degrees, he said, the citizenship process has been frustrating. “I can't imagine what new Americans who don't have that kind of background or resources that we do, go through,” he said.
Kjersti Armstrong is grateful to have finally arrived at this point, 17 years in the making.
“My children are American. My husband's American. I feel American so to have that ceremony to solidify and make that official is something I'm really looking forward to,” she said.