Neimat Awadelseid had looked forward to the moment she would become a U.S. citizen for years — but she never dreamed her naturalization ceremony would happen at the White House.

Even after she received a call inviting her to the executive mansion for the ceremony, she did not know the president would be there until minutes before it began. Nor did she know that it would become a featured segment of the Republican National Convention.

On Tuesday, millions of viewers watched as Awadelseid and four others were sworn in as naturalized Americans by acting homeland security chief Chad Wolf as President Trump looked on. The event, which was taped before it was featured in prime time, was perhaps the most powerful moment of the night.

But it drew an intense backlash from critics who accused the president and the Republican Party of cynically using the carefully curated ceremony to paper over the harsh anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric that have defined his administration over the past four years.

President Trump repeatedly flouted norms and raised legal questions on Aug. 25 as official duties were performed during a political convention. (The Washington Post)

“They said when they called us that it would be at the White House and that the president might be there or he might not. Until the last minute we didn’t know if he was going to be there or not,” Awadelseid said during an interview Wednesday. “And at the last minute when we went into the room they said, good news, he will be there.”

The Wall Street Journal previously reported that at least two people naturalized during the convention did not know they would be part of the program.

Awadelseid, who is originally from Sudan, said she had a citizenship interview about three weeks ago. It marked the end of a long path. She had applied for citizenship in 2018, she said, but had been in the United States since the early 2000s through a student visa and temporary protected status program. She was able to become a permanent resident earlier this decade, she said, through her brother’s sponsorship.

On Thursday night she received a call from immigration officials, she said, who told her the ceremony would be at the White House. Elated, she agreed to participate, and in subsequent days she received paperwork related to her security clearance. Awadelseid said she signed a media privacy release but was not aware how the ceremony would factor into the convention.

“You’ve earned the most prized, treasured, cherished and priceless possession anywhere in the world. It’s called American citizenship,” Trump said in remarks after the ceremony, which also aired on prime time.

The administration has also been heavily criticized for using the White House as a backdrop for a political event.

But despite the criticism Trump has received, Awadelseid said she did not mind that the ceremony had been featured in a political format. The spectacle, she said, did not diminish the uniqueness of being sworn in as a citizen in one of the country’s most iconic settings.

“That is the world we live in now,” she said. “It is an honor for me to get my citizenship after all these years and to have it at a place like the White House.”

The Trump campaign declined to comment about how the event came together.

“This president has always made clear that he supports a merit-based immigration system that serves the national interest and the needs of our citizens,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

Critics have pointed out that stories like Awadelseid’s have become increasingly unlikely because of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

The administration sought to end the temporary protected status program for several countries, including Sudan, in 2018, but was prevented from doing so by a ruling in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Earlier this year, Trump issued a proclamation that banned citizens of Sudan, along with those of several other African countries, from applying to move to the United States through a diversity visa lottery, citing national security concerns.

The president has also repeatedly derided family-sponsored migration over the years, referred to by some as “chain migration.”

“It is painful, what he did, his policy toward my country. It is very hard because it affects everybody. But I want to stop there. I don’t want to talk about it,” said Awadelseid.

“I was waiting for a long time. I was very excited to get my citizenship and I’m excited to have the right to vote,” she added.

She declined to say whom she would vote for in November.

Toluse Olorunnipa and Alice Crites contributed to this report.