Ninety three individuals from 42 countries didn't need the U.S. Congress' immigrant compromise legislation to become citizens of the United States last Monday morning at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate. As they stood to take the oath of allegiance to their new nation, they were recognized for their adherence to the long road to citizenship by Emilio T. Gonzalez, director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, himself a naturalized citizen.
"I want to congratulate all of you for making this incredible journey and decision. The fact that you have taken this step speaks volume about your commitment," Gonzalez told those gathered before him with their right hand raised under the tent on the East Lawn of the First President's estate.
"You are all here and there are millions of people worldwide who would give anything to be where you are today. This country offers everything to everyone. Only here could someone like me, an immigrant, become the director of immigration," he said.
"By your actions today you nourish the tree of liberty," Gonzalez said. He then gave them three instructions: "1. Go get a U.S. Passport because you are now an American; 2. Register to vote and vote. Here your vote counts; and 3. Never give up an opportunity to serve on a jury — in this nation it truly is the judgement of your peers," he told the new citizens.
Among the new citizens were three special individuals who have already lived up to one element of the citizenship oath — to defend this nation against her enemies. They were Reginald Cherubin from Haiti, U.S. Navy; Brian Berthland Joseph, from St. Vincent Grenadines, U.S. Marine Corps; and Jeremy Tattrie from Canada, U.S. Army.
Sgt. Joseph, a resident of Quantico, has been a Marine for 16 years. Cherubin, a resident of the District of Columbia who served seven months in Afghanistan, has been in the U.S. Navy for four years. Tattrie, of Arlington, has spent four years in the U.S. Army.
For each the process to become a U.S. Citizen was a year long effort even though they wore the uniforms of this nation's military services. Their reactions to finally achieving a life long goal was unanimous, "It's great and it's wonderful," they said.
WELCOMING the new citizens to the home of America's first president was Mrs. P. William Moore Jr., vice regent for Virginia, The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. "This is the moment of truth when you will all become citizens of the United States," she said.
Following that, Gregory Christian, Washington district director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, called out the nation to which the 93 applicants had previously owed allegiance. As each nation was called those from that nation seeking U.S. citizenship rose. Christian then presented them to Gonzalez for the oath.
As the keynote speaker for the event, Liza Wright, assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel, The White House, told the new citizens, "As citizens it is our duty to uphold the Constitution and what it stands for." Following her remarks a pre-recorded message from President George W. Bush was played over the loud speakers congratulating the new citizens for their dedication.
C. Russell Shearer, president, George Washington Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution, lead them in the Pledge of Allegiance followed by patriotic songs played by the United State Marine Corps Band.
Concluding the hour-long ceremony was the bestowal of naturalization certificates to each of the new citizens by Gonzalez, Wright, Shearer, and Moore. As a final word of caution Gonzalez urged each of the new citizens to protect their citizenship certificate.
"This is one of the hardest documents to replicate. Therefore, take extra care to protect that certificate. Take it from someone who knows. I lost mine. And, even though my name is on that certificate it took me years to get it replaced," he said.
As noted in each naturalization ceremony, individuals can live in other nations but can not be considered as namesakes of that country. Here, everyone, whether native born or legally naturalized, can call themselves "American."
During fiscal year 2006, more than 700,000 new Americans were sworn-in as U.S. Citizens in ceremonies nationwide. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service has naturalized 26,000 military service personnel.