Immigration remains a divisive and partisan topic across the nation, but neither that mean-spirited debate nor the uncertain economy of recent years has been able to squelch the desire of individuals from other nations to come here to seek personal liberty and to build better lives for themselves and their families. U.S. citizenship remains the dream of millions around the globe. If anyone doubts that is still true, naturalization ceremonies Wednesday provided compelling evidence to the contrary.
The ceremony at the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building for 49 people representing 27 countries was both solemn and joyous. Chief U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier outlined the rights and responsibilities of citizens to a rapt audience. He told those to be naturalized that they would always remember April 11, 2012. "Along with your birthday and wedding anniversary, you now have another special day in your lives -- the day you became citizens of the United States of America."
Many in the audience listened carefully to the judge, nodding emphatically as he spoke. All in the courtroom listened intently, too, as the oath of citizenship was administered. Happy smiles and tears of joy from the nation's newest citizens and their families and friends followed. The ceremony, as always, is a poignant reminder that those who earn citizenship often honor it more than those who automatically receive it when they are born.
Perhaps that's because becoming a U.S. citizen is not easy. It requires a major investment of time and a commitment to study. Many of those who became citizens Wednesday had resided in the United States for at least five years before beginning the extensive naturalization application process. The procedure involves personal interviews, background checks and a variety of tests, including mandatory exams in English and civics. It can be an intimidating process, but it is a fair one. After all, U.S. citizenship is not and should not be free for the taking.
Those who seek naturalization happily accept the responsibility it confers upon them. Indeed, several of those naturalized Wednesday said one of their first acts as a new citizen would be to register to vote. Others looked forward to a future free of the violence, ethnic strife and social stratification that prompted them to leave their native land. Whatever their reasons for seeking citizenship, their zeal for freedom and their embrace of their new home is welcome.
America traditionally has welcomed those who seek a new life. That custom continues. The immigration and naturalization system continues to benefit both the United States and those who choose to become citizens of what remains, despite some well publicized problems, a great nation. Wednesday's ceremony, like similar ones cross the country, is a powerful ratification of the United States' ideals and its way of life.