More than 14,000 immigrants across the country became America’s newest citizens during ceremonies that come at a time of heightened anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.
The emotionally charged ceremonies, which typically occur in the days before and after Independence Day, mark the end of long journeys and the fulfillment of dreams.
They also coincide with President Donald Trump’s widely condemned policy of separating families at the border.
Still, the new citizens stood to sing the National Anthem. They read aloud the Oath of Allegiance, printed on a small white card in their citizenship packets. And 140 words later, they were naturalized citizens.
Here are some of their stories:
Anika Rieper , 44 (Germany) – Pennsylvania
I would love to share my story about becoming a US citizen, but I have to warn you, it’s a pretty boring story. I fell in love with an American and moved here. Eventually we got married and I have been living in the US for almost 16 years. I could have applied for citizenship many years ago but since my home country Germany only allows dual citizenship with special permission, I didn’t start the whole process until three years ago.
I feel very much like an American but I’m also German. I’m a Germerican – how German-Americans are called or call themselves. I wanted to officially be a part of America that I call my home.
Being a US citizen means to me that I can make my voice heard by voting. That’s the practical level. On an emotional level, it means that I am fully committed to this country and its people.
I think in immigration we need to remember that the US had almost open borders until 1924. Many people will say that they are against illegal immigration and that their ancestors came here legally.
But really, people who came here during the early immigration waves had the same reasons people coming here now have: To seek new opportunities, to escape poverty, persecution, starvation, death. The difference is that you can’t just come like you could 100 years ago. The other difference is that most illegal immigrants are not Caucasian. People have an innate suspicion towards people who look different and aren’t part of their “tribe” or “group.”
I think that I personally have never encountered any animosity towards me and my nationality – only curiosity. But I am Caucasian and can totally pass as an American. The only time people ask me where I am from is when they hear my accent, hear me speaking German or when they wonder about my name.
Right now, with the separation of children from their parents at the border, emotions run high and there also is a lot of wrong or distorted information out there. Unfortunately, most people have an opinion and seek out only the information that confirms said opinion. So it’s very hard to have a discussion about the issue that is rational and considers the facts.
However, separating children from their parents is cruel, and I think it goes against American values. … We need to take immigration reform seriously and think about different approaches that do justice to the immigrants and to the American people – especially the ones who feel threatened by illegal immigrants.
Mame Fama Fall, 20 (Senegal) – New York
Up until Tuesday, I’ve been identified by my alien number as a permanent resident. I’ve been living in America since I was 3 years old. This is the place I call home. I shouldn’t have to worry about one day being separated from my family and sent back to where I came from. No one should, for that matter. Upon hearing all of Trump’s policies and thoughts on immigrants, my parents knew we we had to get our citizenship as soon as possible.
The naturalization process itself was not very difficult, but more time consuming and nerve-wracking. I remember thinking what if I don’t pass the test? Or what if something goes wrong with my paperwork? Applying for an application does not always guarantee citizenship.
Fast forward to the day of my ceremony. It didn’t hit me that I was a citizen until I received my certificate. The feeling itself was indescribable. From that moment, I knew that I had an obligation to fulfill to my country.
I am now able to exercise all the rights offered to citizens and be a part of a great nation. Yes, America isn’t perfect, but I’m so grateful to live in a land that offers so many opportunities.
Silvia Ramos, 30 (Mexico) – Arizona
Becoming a US citizen means security for me and my family. It means opportunities and a new chapter in my life.
For me, it feels like I was given a voice. Even as a legal resident, I never felt like I could voice my convictions as freely as I did in my own country and now I can and I will. Maybe this voice I was now given could help make changes in the future for my fellow immigrants.
Valeriu Vasilescu, 37 (Romania) – Florida
I go by Val. I’m 37 years old and I was born in Bucharest, Romania. Being an American is a dream come true. It’s getting to be a part of the greatest nation and having a voice for freedom. I lived in Romania while it was under a strict communist regime, so freedom was nonexistent.
I was told what to wear and what to say and anything American was banned. Going through that experience makes me appreciate being an American more than I could express. I am truly living a dream-come-true life.
I grew up in Romania. My mom was a prima ballerina. She escaped communism. I was able to go to Greece with her. She later sought political asylum and we were able to come to the US with a green card in 1990. I always thought about how wonderful it was to be here and I could see that so many people who were becoming citizens sort of had this glow about them.
I went through the process. It was much easier than I thought. The process was three months. I took the oath in Tampa at the end of April. There were people from 47 countries in one room.
I remember the story about the people from Central America that were denied entrance at the border. Seeing so much of that, it feels like I’m so lucky I’m already here. What’s going on with the Trump administration certainly made me more aware of how important it is for me to take this step and become a citizen. Today is the first time in my life I get to celebrate Independence Day as an American citizen.
Yesenia Gonzalez, 20 (Mexico) – Mississippi
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to become a citizen of the country that welcomed me as a little girl – providing me with so many opportunities. I get to officially call it my own.
I’ve been in the US more than half of my life and it’s been my shelter in the toughest and also the happiest moments. This country has witnessed my greatest accomplishments – my marriage and my sons.
I see a lot of hate towards immigrants. Whoever has the opportunity to do it, I hope they all become citizens and represent the Hispanic community. A lot of people are becoming US citizens. I’m so glad people are taking this step. Now we can vote. I wish I could have done this sooner.
Being an American means I now have rights but also responsibilities. I have freedom to pursue what America stands for: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I get to be loyal to the country that’s given me so much and I thank my stepfather and mother for bringing us to this great country. My country. We’re very blessed.