With a national controversy swirling around the issue of illegal immigration, 100 individuals from 42 countries chose to become citizens of the United States Monday morning, pledging to uphold the laws of this nation.
Assembled under a white tent on the east lawn of the home of America's first President previous citizens of such diverse cultures as El Salvador, Egypt, China, Iran, Iraq, Vietnam, India South Korea, Canada, and United Kingdom all pledged allegiance to the stars and strips and were awarded their certificate of naturalized citizenship.
"I am very passionate about this ceremony. I am an immigrant myself. Forty years ago I became an American citizen at nine years old when my parents became citizens. America without its immigrants would not be America," said Dr. Emilio T. Gonzalez, director, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, as he administered the Oath of Citizenship to the sea of diverse faces standing with their right hand raised before him.
"Thank you for taking this very important step in your lives. Don't
take your citizenship lightly. Take it seriously," he said.
Among those listening to his words were Richard Murray a native of Calgary, Canada; Amir Rezvan formerly from Iran; Patricia Carol Mary Hobson, Grenada; and Ulla Widmann Lee, from Germany. Each had pursued the often long and sometimes frustrating path to citizenship.
"I've actually been here for 15 years. I originally came to attend the university and stayed to go on to Cornell University Law School," said Hobson.
"Then I got married. The United States has been my home for half of my life. It was time I became a citizen," she said.
"My wife is American and so are my children so I thought it was time for me to become one also. I've been here 10 years. We live in Ashburn and I don't see my self returning to Canada to live," said Murray.
IN THE CASE of Lee it was also a very practical decision. "She's
been here for sometime. I'm due to be assigned overseas and with the world situation as it is I wanted her to be able to have unquestionable access to our embassy," said U.S.Army Major Bryan Lee, Ulla's husband, as he watched her take the oath.
For Amir Rezvan of Iran it has been somewhat of a struggle. "I've been here for 20 years. It's been a long process. There were some complications and they lost my papers once so I had to start over," he said.
"Even though I came here as a child, before actually getting the certificate it seemed a little strange. But, in the last few minutes everything seems different. And, this was the best ceremony possible. Just being here at Mount Vernon, Washington's home, made it all worthwhile," he said as he stood on lawn with his wife Samar Yazzanfar who is in the process of getting her citizenship.
DELIVERING THE KEYNOTE address was Under Secretary of State for Management Henrietta Fore. "All of us here today are a product of the American vision. People from virtually every nation on earth have come to our shores. We celebrate our diversity. It is our strength," she told the new citizens.
"My mother was born in Switzerland and she became a naturalized citizen of this nation. She did it for us, her daughters," Fore said.
"Citizenship is a great blessing. You who have worked and waited to achieve this status know that only too well. We are all here to celebrate this very special day in your lives," she said.
Opening the ceremonies was Lucia Henderson, District of Columbia vice regent, Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. "Today we stand on very historic ground. For 40 years George Washington called this his home. And, it is truly an honor and privilege to welcome you here," she said.
Prior to Gonzales administering the Oath of Citizenship, Phyllis A. Howard, district director, United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, called out the nation from which each of the citizen candidates had come and had them stand to be recognized.
She then made the formal motion for the oath followed by the group's recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in unison. They were led by C. Russell Shearer, president, George Washington Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution.
Throughout the hour long ceremony music was provided by the U.S.Marine Corps Band ensemble and the National Men's Chorus. The colors were presented by the United States Armed Forces Color
As Howard called out each name they came forward to receive their certificate from Gonzales and congratulations from the others. They were now officially American citizens with all the privileges and responsibilities that carries with it.