WASHINGTON, July 4, 2014 —
President Barack Obama today helped welcome 25 service members and spouses from 15 countries at the end of a journey in which they became America’s newest citizens.
Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas administered the oath of citizenship to candidates from the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as military spouses, proclaiming, “You are now United States citizens.”
Obama then lauded the new citizens for their “long journey” from Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Jamaica, Nigeria, Panama, the Philippines, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, and Ukraine to the U.S.
“Then many of you did something extraordinary,” Obama said. “You signed up to serve in the United States military. You answered the call to fight and potentially to give your life for a country that you didn’t fully belong to yet.”
“You understood what makes us American is not just circumstances of birth, or the names in our family tree,” he said. It’s the timeless belief that from many we are one and are bound together by adherence to a set of beliefs and unalienable rights, with certain obligations to serve each other, Obama said.
“Over the years, that’s exactly what you’ve done,” he added.
Obama talked about three of the ceremony’s participants, describing their motivation for joining the U.S. military.
“Rodrigo Laquian came to the United States from the Philippines,” the president said. “He joined the Navy because, he said, he ‘wanted to be a part of something big and important -- to be a part of a great cause.’”
“Stephanie Van Ausdall moved here from Canada with her mom when she was 18 years old,” Obama said. “Today, she’s 26 and a sergeant in the Army. Stephanie says she joined the military ‘to give my children someone to look up to and someone they can be proud of.’”
“Oscar Gonzalez was born in Guatemala, and became a Marine last year,” he said. “Becoming a citizen, he says, means becoming part of a ‘society that strives and stands for good all around the world -- just being a part of that makes me complete.’”
Obama also recognize military spouses who have “been serving our country as well.”
“Diana Baker is originally from Kenya and met her husband Kowaine in Germany,” he said. “Today, she’s a nurse at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Maryland, and she and her husband have four beautiful children.”
“In Diana’s words,” Obama said, “‘becoming a citizen of the United States is like joining a club of the best of the best.’”
Together, the president said, the new Americans remind the country that “America is and always has been a nation of immigrants.”
“Throughout our history, immigrants have come to our shores in wave after wave, from every corner of the globe,” he said. “Every one of us –- unless we’re Native American –- has an ancestor who was born somewhere else.”
“And even though we haven’t always looked the same or spoken the same language,” Obama said, “as Americans, we’ve done big things together. “
We’ve won this country’s freedom together, he said, built our greatest cities together, defended our way of life together and we’ve continued to perfect our union together which is what makes America special.
Obama said what makes the America strong is the basic idea of welcoming immigrants to our shores and it is central to our way of life.
We believe our diversity and differences, he said, when joined together by a common set of ideals, make the nation stronger and more creative.
“From all these different strands, we make something new here in America,” Obama said.
The president provided inspiration through a quote from a “famous” immigrant chef from Armenia named George Mardikian, who notes, Obama said, “‘You who have been born in America, I wish I could make you understand what it is like not to be an American -– not to have been an American all your life -– and then, suddenly to be one, for that moment, and forever after.’”
Today, Obama said, on this Fourth of July, all across the country -- from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello to the Alamodome in Texas -- immigrants from around the world are taking the oath of citizenship.
“Many of them have worked and sacrificed for years to get to this moment,” he said. “All of them have done it for something none of us should ever take for granted -- the right to be called an American, from this moment, and forever after.”
This fact, Obama said, should give Americans hope and make them confident about the future of the country.
As long as there are men and women willing to give so much for the right to call themselves Americans, he said, and we do our part to keep the door open to those willing to earn their citizenship, the nation’s economy will grow.
“We’ll continue to journey forward,” Obama said. “And we’ll remind the world of why the United States of America is, and always will be, the greatest nation on Earth. We’re very proud of you. Congratulations.”
(Follow Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter:@MarshallDoDNews)