This past Thursday I had the honor of attending a naturalization ceremony for some friends of mine. Originally from the UK, they’ve been in the US for around 10 years or so with a green card, and last February they initiated the process for becoming a citizen. It was expensive, tortuous and byzantine, and they had to deal with the best and the worst of American career bureaucrats, but they persevered, and on Thursday they were sworn in as United States Citizens.
Despite being born of immigrant ancestors, this was the first time I have ever attended such a ceremony. It brought many feelings to the surface. My own paternal grandparents came to this country in around 1900 from Calabria and Tuscany, both in Italy. At some point they were naturalized, but I have no documentation; however, my grandfather’s brother became a citizen on October 2nd, 1925, and I managed to score a copy of his naturalization certificate:
The ceremony was solemn in nature, being an official session of court presided over by a federal judge, and was held in Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City.
Colors were posted, the Pledge of Allegiance was said, dignitaries spoke, and in the end, a court official administered the following oath to over 400 newly-minted Americans:
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
This process takes place every other month in Salt Lake… and is repeated on a regular basis in countless cities throughout the country. Thousands of people who saw the lamp lifted beside the golden door, and came here searching for a better life than the ones they had in their countries of birth. Despite all its flaws and challenges and mistakes and foibles and inconsistencies, they wanted to be a part of this country and the ideals that it still, at some level, stands for: freedom, a vote, and the opportunity to do with their lives what they will. At the end of the ceremony, microphones were passed to a few of the new citizens, and they expressed their feelings; the speakers came from Egypt, Mexico, Guatemala, Russia, Congo, Pakistan, Mongolia, the United Kingdom, and over 30 other nations were represented in the body of applicants. Each one expressed gratitude for their newly-conferred freedoms, and the fact that even though they were the nation’s newest citizens, they were in every respect equal to those who lived here since 1776.
It was an odd mixture of feelings. The ceremony was designed to be patriotic in nature, but patriotism seemed out of place in that gathering – it was more a coming home. I reflected on my own immigrant ancestors, and millions like them who left their natal shores to embark on often perilous journeys to an unknown land, a land about which they knew little other than stories. They came, and were processed through Ellis Island and other centers on other shores. They lived, worked, and died, and in so doing they became a part of this country and its history.
Now we are faced with another immigrant question – the fate of 11 million immigrants who came to this country another way, through porous borders. Often their journey was no less perilous, and often moreso – many have died in the attempt. Their reasons for coming have been no less elevated – they sought a better life in a country of opportunity when their own country offered them nothing but poverty, or oppression, or death. But they didn’t come through Ellis Island, and they didn’t follow the rules. And now we have to figure out what is to be done with them, and their families, some of whom have been here for multiple generations.
If we as Americans want to continue enjoying cheap, abundant produce, we need these laborers – and this is only one small sector of our economy where immigrants figure significantly. But if we are to honor the dedication and sacrifice of those who entered our country and came through the front door, as did my ancestors, as did my friends last Thursday, providing a streamlined path to citizenship for those who did not follow the laws seems like an intolerable slap in the face. For these people there must be a path to citizenship provided, but not one that disrespects those who came here and became citizens under due process of law. Quoting Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, “There should be a pathway to citizenship – not a special pathway and not no pathway. But there has to be a legal, lawful way to go through this process that works, and right now it doesn’t.”
It is not an easy decision, because we’re dealing with multiple generations of people – many of whom were born in this country. I don’t support blanket amnesty, but I don’t support throwing all these people out on their ear either. We must keep working to find balance between honoring the law and being both human and humane. The congressional debate continues.
For those who received their naturalization certificates last Thursday, whatever Congress decides will have little impact other than the one that illegal immigrants cause on the overall economy, an economy of which they are now part and parcel as fully-recognized, taxpaying citizens. These I honor especially, for the efforts they made to become part of our nation in the duly appointed way. To these new Americans, I wish all the prosperity and security that they worked so hard to obtain. This is no less than I wish for our undocumented aliens, but I want them to obtain it the same way as my friends and my ancestors did.
The Old Wolf has spoken.