Naturalization Ceremony Honors New Uniformed Citizens
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 14, 2008 As a naturalization ceremony began this afternoon, 22 U.S. military immigrants representing 15 nations stood at attention in the balmy Pentagon courtyard while the color guard passed before them.
Though they were born in Peru, Kenya or Jamaica or hailed from the United Kingdom, Canada or Ethiopia, when the troops took the Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the star-spangled American flag became their national banner.
“We are a greater country, we are a stronger country, we are a better country today, because you have joined us this day as Americans,” Air Force Maj. Gen. James W. Graves, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for reserve matters, told the troops before they pledged citizenship.
The group wore a collective look of pride as they raised their right hands and recited the oath, led by Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In a pastiche of foreign voices with varying levels of English fluency, the immigrants repeated each clause of the oath. Together, they renounced “fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty”; vowed to support and defend the U.S. Constitution and the nation’s laws; promised to serve at the will of the nation; and pledged they were assuming their duties “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.”
Following recitation of the oath, the USCIS director congratulated the group, calling them “America’s newest citizens,” as the crowd rose to its feet and gave a thundering standing ovation.
“It speaks volumes about America when people are willing to pick up arms and defend her, yet they can’t even vote here,” Gonzalez said. “The fact that tens of thousands of legal, permanent noncitizens serve in our armed forces is something that’s quite unfathomable to countries around the world.”
Gonzalez, an immigrant himself, told the new citizens that America is land where people are measured by what they can be, not by their country of origin.
“You are the future of this country, and more immigrant communities will continue to strengthen this nation and make it what it is today,” he said. “Those of you here, you honor America by your service, and hopefully America has repaid that honor with well-earned citizenship.”
Before the immigrant troops undertook the oath, they had to first demonstrate good moral character and show knowledge of the English language, the U.S. government and civics, according to the USCIS Web site.
By joining more than 300 million other U.S. citizens, those naturalized today leave roughly 37,000 other non-U.S. citizens currently serving in the military, according to U.S. Congress statistics.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England said that in acknowledgement of foreign-born servicemembers’ merit, President Bush signed an executive order in 2002 making the immigrants immediately eligible for U.S. citizenship when they serve on active duty. “If some people are willing to risk their lives for our country, they ought to be full participants in our country,” England said, quoting the president.
“What is altogether remarkable about the people here today -- the nation’s newest citizens -- is that long before this day when that distinction is being conferred upon you, you had volunteered to serve your nation of choice in a most demanding occupation, and during one of the most demanding periods in the nation’s recent history,” England said.
“That service has taken some of you far from this country, in some cases to the harsh and often violent streets of Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. Three of the servicemembers naturalized today have served in Iraq, and one has served in Afghanistan, according to Defense Department officials. “All of you are dedicated servants of the nation you’ve chosen and for which you’ve shouldered the burden of its defense.”
The deputy secretary welcomed the wide-ranging experience and wisdom the new citizens were adding to the U.S. melting pot.
“The countries you hail from, your names, your cultures, and unique experiences reflect the diversity that is this nation’s hallmark and vitality,” he said. “The country’s strong fabric is woven from the richly varied contributions of citizens from around the entire world.”
A citizen for about an hour, Juan De La Maza, a 33-year-old Army private from Mexico City already was looking forward to exercising his new rights. “It will be nice to have the liberty to do something more,” he said, “like vote.”