These Immigrants Became U.S. Citizens The Day Trump Was Inaugurated. Their Stories Are Filled With Hope (Video)
With 30 minutes to go until Donald Trump is sworn in as the country’s 45th President, I am saying the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time since I was ten. Not for the inauguration, mind you — I have no way to watch, since they took my phone at the door and there are no TVs inside the courthouse. Instead, I am being led in the Pledge by the judge presiding over the final naturalization ceremony of the Obama administration, and I’m surrounded by a hundred or so immigrants from all over the world who, at long last, are becoming U.S. citizens. We say it together.
The energy in the room is almost identical to that found at the top of a roller coaster’s first peak. People hear their name called and head to the front of the courtroom to receive a packet with the necessary paperwork, and upon returning to their seats, they clasp hands or touch foreheads with the family members and loved ones who are there to support them. Shortly after we were let into the room where the ceremony would take place, a group of women with garment bags excused themselves to the ladies’ room and returned dressed in brightly patterned dresses, specially chosen outfits for their first day as Americans. A young North African guy to my left, grinning ear to ear, is dressed in a full tuxedo.
The judge in charge of the ceremony is the son of a refugee. His father fled to America decades ago, and the judge says he’s grateful that, today, he is afforded the privilege of aiding these people, some of whom escaped turmoil and violence in their own countries, in becoming citizens of their adopted homeland. “You chose to be here,” he says. He thanks them for choosing America.
After the ceremony, I watch an older Colombian-born man named Luis drink his first cup of coffee as an American citizen. He’s been here for 33 years. His partner is getting annoyed with the drizzle outside the courthouse and wants to go, but Luis wants to talk about America, and he does so with the kind of relief and palpable joy you usually only get from people on their wedding days. “I belong to this country,” he says.
Every new citizen I talk to is hopeful about the future of America. Despite the explosion in anti-immigrant sentiment that accompanied Trump’s rise to power, all of these people hold more optimism about their country’s potential than any of the native-born citizens I know. This might be because they’re actively working to make it a better place — all the people getting naturalized that shared their stories with me have some kind of commitment to public service. One woman, after spending a year unemployed due to her immigration status, has just accepted a job at the police department, working with the education sector. Another, who brought her young son to the ceremony, is going to be a public health advocate.
One week after this ceremony, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Donald Trump would sign a sweeping executive order halting the influx of immigrants and refugees into the United States. Some of the people denied entry were Ivy League students who were visiting home; others were legal green card holders who happen to be from Syria. One was an Iraqi former interpreter for the U.S. military, who risked his life to translate for soldiers stationed in the Middle East. When this happens, I think of Luis. I am grateful that people like him came here when they did, and were allowed entry. I pledge to be an American like he is: hopeful, dedicated, wholly committed to the success of the American Experiment. And I hope, for the sake of our country, that we won’t run out of the spirit of achievement that’s proven to be so present in those of us who come from somewhere else.