By Ellie Klerlein, Deputy Director, Digital, NCLR
Yesterday, I got to do one of my favorite parts of the job. I attended a citizenship ceremony organized by NCLR Affiliate CARECEN and the USCIS Office of Citizenship at the Mount Pleasant Public Library in Washington, DC. During the ceremony, we welcomed new Americans from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, India, China, Colombia, El Salvador, Nigeria, and Iran. And it just seemed fitting to have the ceremony in Mount Pleasant. As Abel Nuñez, Executive Director of CARECEN put it in his welcome remarks:
“This is a community that embraces diversity, a place where the neighborhood Catholic Parish holds masses in 5 different languages, a place where you can eat an American burger, a Salvadoran pupusa, Peruvian chicken and Vietnamese pho on the same block.”
It’s that diversity that always warms my heart at these ceremonies. There is just something about witnessing people from all over the world as they come together to take this sacred oath. It’s what our country is all about, honoring our strong history as a nation of immigrants. This wasn’t my first time watching immigrants take the oath to become US Citizens but I don’t think I’ll ever stop being inspired by them.
These are folks who go through a long and hard process to take this final step of becoming U.S. citizens. After applying for and obtaining a green card, most have to wait at least five years before they can apply for citizenship. They study hard to prepare for the civics and English tests. They pass a background check and pay a whopping $680 fee, not a small amount for most of us. As our President and CEO, Janet Murguia, said this week at the release of a study of California Latinos and their access to financial services, “Many eligible immigrants have been unable to naturalize because of the cost prohibitive fees, while others may be struggling with finding a way to fully legalize their status under current law.” I have organized a few citizenship workshops where NCLR helps these aspiring Americans fill out the required forms to apply. I remember being told time and time again by applicants how thankful they are to have that help. They want to have everything just right because they don’t want to mess up this opportunity.
CARECEN has guided immigrants through the naturalization process for decades by offering Latinos from Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean a variety of services from application workshops and English classes to citizenship interview preparation. It was moving to see all that hard work pay off yesterday. Abel hearkened back to his own swearing-in ceremony while addressing the audience:
“I remember when I participated in my naturalization ceremony, 17 years ago. It was a moment filled with joy and pride as I acquired all the rights and responsibilities of a US citizen. I knew that, as a citizen, I could vote, I could petition family members, I could leave the country and not worry about re-entry, I could even run for elected office, but, most important of all, I felt that I belonged, as the motto states E Pluribus Unum – I was, out of many, one.”
As the full Senate begins debate over immigration reform, I hope they remember and reaffirm our proud history as a nation of immigrants by protecting the roadmap to citizenship currently outlined in the bill and preserving funding for important programs like those offered by CARECEN.