Yesterday was a happy day. I conducted a naturalization ceremony in the special proceedings (big) courtroom in Lincoln. The place was packed with all types of people including little kids who ran around having the time of their lives.
I conduct a rather bare bones ceremony. I introduce myself, the naturalization examiner and the women and men (mostly old, like me) from the civic groups that help us. Then the examiner names each new citizen. The poor fellow struggles over pronunciation, but he gets close. He then makes a formal motion to admit the candidates to citizenship upon their taking the required oath. Of course, I grant the motion.
After each new citizen is identified, they stand and raise their right hands. The courtroom deputy administers an oath to the citizens, and then I start clapping and everyone else joins in. Everyone sits down, and we play a video of the President speaking to the new citizens.
I then make a short address to the new citizens. Here is my address:
It is customary to speak to our new citizens about what a great country we have, and how fortunate they are to become citizens of this great country. However, it struck me that this country became great and remains great in large part because of its immigrants. Therefore, I thought it appropriate to celebrate this moment not by boasting about this country, but rather by stressing that those of us who are born to American citizenship should be thankful to immigrants past, present and future. Let me elaborate briefly.
First, all too often those of us who were born to American citizenship forget that each of us, with the exception of Native Americans, has an immigrant in our history. Many of us descended from German, Swedish, English, Irish, Czech, Russian, French or Italian stock. Others of us have more exotic immigration histories in our families. But virtually all of us have our forefathers to thank for the traumatic task of immigration. Whether they were dragged here in the terrible confines of a slave ship or booked passage on a luxury liner, our immigrant ancestors took risks to come to this country. Therefore, most native-born citizens owe a real debt of gratitude to the immigrants in our past–a debt that we should not forget.
Second, all too often we forget what each generation of new immigrants has done for this country. Our political system was inspired by immigrants. Our railroads, our coal mines, our cotton fields, our oil wells and our steel mills were built, dug, tended, drilled or stoked by immigrants. Our space program is a testament to immigrants. Our wars were fought by immigrants. Virtually everything of value that we have in this country–from political freedom to economic progress–was in some positive way influenced by immigrants.
Third, all too often we forget that immigrants by their mere presence bless us with a diversity that truly enriches our spirit. What would Boston be without the sound of an Irish brogue? What would Milwaukee be without German food? Could there really be a San Francisco without Chinatown? Can you imagine Chicago without the ethnic neighborhoods of Poles, Czechs and Hungarians? Wouldn’t Miami be a boring expanse of sand without the Cubans? Aren’t cities with names like San Antonio, Santa Fe and Los Angeles contradictions in terms without the Mexicans? Our art, our food, our music, our humor, our language, our literature and, indeed, our daily lives are made immensely more interesting because of immigrants.
In summary, those of us who today welcome our new citizens would do well to reflect on how lucky we–not they–are. The new citizens we welcome today will enrich this nation beyond any expectation. It is with these grateful thoughts that I welcome each and every one of our new citizens.
After my little speech, I walk down from the bench. One by one the new citizens and I greet each other. I hand each person their nice looking certificate. Almost always, the family wants to take photos with the new citizen, the examiner and myself. We happily oblige. Sometimes I hold the children, although yesterday I picked up one chunky but darling little boy without realizing the kid weighed almost more than I could lift. My struggle caused giggles all around. I love handing out the certificates because it allows me to chat briefly and individually with each new friend, and those chats are heartwarming. I take care not to offer to shake the hands of Muslim women since that is offensive to some. Other than that, the task is easy and fun.
Following the ceremony in the courtroom, the citizens can attend a reception in their honor in our jury assembly room. Cookies, cake and punch are served by the civic groups. The new citizens can also register to vote in a booth set up near the reception area. Additionally, they can meet with the Social Security folks to get their SS cards. By then, I am back in my office with a big grin on my face.