Welcome to America, legal immigrants
The Kansas City Star
To be born a U.S. citizen is to be born lucky.
I take so much for granted, forgetting the struggles of my ancestors and often neglecting to fully appreciate the benefits and responsibilities afforded me as a citizen born here.. To better understand an alternate path to U.S. citizenship, naturalization or becoming a citizen by choice, I recently attended the Naturalization Proceedings for the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan.
This public courtroom ceremony was our country’s official welcome to 87 new citizens. The warm and civilized tone of the program stands in sharp contrast to the hostile rhetoric used by local and national politicians to inflame and polarize discussions about immigration reform.
The thoughtful and personal nature of the remarks offered by the presiding judges, guest speaker, singer and other officers of the court were touching. They referenced the larger context of the immigrant experience, one that is far more complicated than a few simple statistics.
They spoke with historical perspective, civility, humility and respect for the individual journey of each new citizen. They offered appreciation to the group for the chance to share in their special event.
One judge began with the simple but powerful words, “Welcome home.” Another speaker shared that his own family’s generational journey through Kansas’ history included family members working as a blacksmith, a fire fighter and now as a circuit court judge.
He said: “We didn’t go through this process, we are here by birth, but we share similar family histories. Our own ancestors came to this region for employment, escape or betterment. We are happy and humbled to be a part of this day. One or two generations from now, it may be your children or grandchildren up here as judges.”
As the new citizens were introduced, I was surprised to hear there were 38 countries represented. Joining our Midwest melting pot were new citizens whose country of origin included Somalia, India, Nigeria, Mexico, Thailand, Algeria, Peru, Iran, Kenya, Bangladesh, China, Malaysia, Laos, Philippines, Australia, Sweden, Guatemala, Bosnia, Egypt, Vietnam, South Korea, Czech Republic, Russia, Cuba, South Africa, Jamaica, Indonesia, Brazil, Ethiopia, Ecuador, England, Poland, Canada, Turkey and Jordan.
Their occupations covered a range of skills and talents, including student, laboratory scientist, homemaker, machine technician, teacher, housekeeper, telecom engineer, mechanical engineer, prep cook, accountant, real estate salesperson, database engineer, plumber, special education teacher, custodian and an asset manager. Each person had already passed a civics exam, and then pledged to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”
At the conclusion of the program, family photos were snapped with judges in robes and with volunteers from the Daughters of the American Revolution dressed in American Revolutionary attire.
We merged into the hallway and within seconds you couldn’t tell new citizen from neighborhood friend, family member or court official.
I left pleased with the way one part of the immigration experience had unfolded. I’d like to know more about these new citizens and their decision to pledge their energies and that of their future generations to this complicated and amazing land.
The words of one judge lingered in my mind as I walked to my car: “We improve our country by adding to it. Your experience, your prior contributions are valuable. I’m proud of you. Thank you for letting me share this with you.”
Sarah Baum, of Mission Hills, has worked in finance and as a community volunteer. Reach her by email at email@example.com or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108.