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Home of the brave

05/02/2010

This morning, instead of answering phones and working on EOCs, my work for the Senator took me to the District Courthouse for two naturalization ceremonies. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a naturalization ceremony is the legal step that makes a U.S. permanent resident a U.S. citizen. Ceremonies usually honor 50-60 individuals at a time, making them a somewhat lengthy process.

First, new citizens arrive to the courthouse and meet with a representative of Customs and Immigration Services (CIS). The CIS representative collects a survey from them about activity since their final immigration interview, as well as their green card, and has the new citizen sign her or his certificate of naturalization. Then, a federal judge begins the ceremony proper: often there is a reflection about the citizenship process, and an introduction of persons of interest in attendance; then, the judge administers the citizenship oath, in which new citizens renounce loyalty to any other “prince or potentate, state or sovereign…” and swear to live by the same laws that born U.S. citizens are bound to uphold. After the oath is administered, each new citizen comes up to receive their naturalization certificate and to be recognized.

All of this is a very technical treatment that does nothing to describe the atmosphere in that room. There was excitement edged with solemnity, but more than anything there was hope. I looked out each time into a sea of faces, each representing an individual heritage from a different corner of the world — Peru, Liberia, Russia, Syria, Jordan — and each eager to take the final step toward citizenship and their first step as citizens of their new country. We told each one, appropriately, “welcome home.”

In some ways we are lucky to be born citizens — we don’t have to actively participate in the political process, understand how our government works or even have an accurate grasp of history. We can say what we want about our country and the people who run it, and never will someone question us or test us to see if we pass muster. But these new citizens, our latest brothers and sisters in stars and stripes, demonstrate the sort of passion that we should all have for the land of our birth, the land of our hearts. They chose to come here, to overcome personal and political challenges to stand before a judge who declared to be legal what they already know: they are home.


I can’t wait until I get to see another ceremony. How uplifting!

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