New American citizens take an oath during a naturalization service on Ellis Island, a highly symbolic spot for the ceremony
Ellis Island (United States) (AFP) – Tears flowed and flags were raised when 200 New Yorkers became US citizens Saturday during a private naturalization ceremony on the city’s famous Ellis Island, which has been receiving thousands of immigrants daily.
Citizenship candidates from nearly 60 different countries stepped into the great hall of the former immigration station, where about 12 million people entered the United States over six decades in the early 1900s.
The ceremony, the first of its kind on the island since 2016, marked the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution in 1787 and kicks off the government’s annual “Citizenship Week.”
USCIS said 200 new US citizens out of 19,000 will be sworn in across the country this week.
As sunlight streamed through the huge arched windows, the feeling in the room was clear as the group swore an oath of allegiance to the United States, less than a mile from the Statue of Liberty.
US Attorney Merrick Garland presided over, telling the newest US citizen: “This country – your country – welcomes you wholeheartedly.”
US Attorney Merrick Garland presided over the citizenship award ceremony
The head of the Ministry of Justice choked with tears in his back as he recounted how his relatives fled religious persecution in Eastern Europe.
He said two of his grandmother’s brothers were unable to escape, and died in the Holocaust.
“I often thought about how my family felt when they passed through buildings like this,” he said. “And I often thought about what their decisions meant for my life.”
Before the ceremony, Lovell Brown, 31, from Jamaica, told AFP she was excited to be on the island for the first time at “this big moment”.
“I feel like I’m actually part of the United States now,” said the teacher, who has lived in the United States since she was 17.
“It makes me feel like I belong here.”
– Migration row –
People on the ferry to Ellis Island for the naturalization ceremony pass the Statue of Liberty
The party took place amid a cloud of increasingly politicized debate over the arrival of illegal immigrants to the United States.
It came just days after about 50 immigrants unexpectedly arrived on Martha’s Vineyard, the resort island of Tony’s in Massachusetts, where the Republican Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, sent them in a highly political move.
Right-wing US governors are moving, and now flying, to cities largely populated by Democrats as a way to denounce President Joe Biden’s immigration policy, which they say has allowed illegal immigrants to cross the border with Mexico in droves.
On Thursday morning, the Republican Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, dispatched two buses carrying immigrants close to the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington, a location deliberately chosen because she oversees the divisive issue of immigration in the White House.
Garland alluded widely to the country’s political tensions.
“Overcoming the current polarization in our public life is a difficult task and will remain so,” he said. “But we can’t get over it by ignoring it.”
The pandemic has caused a backlog of citizenship applications and slowed the naturalization process.
According to the latest annual report from the US Department of Homeland Security, 814,000 people became citizens in 2021, up 30 percent from 628,000 the year before, when the Covid-19 pandemic brought much of public life to a standstill.
– ‘I found my home’ –
New US Citizens Attend Naturalization Service on Ellis Island
Omar Kabir Ahmed, 63, has been living in the United States since 1989 after leaving his native Nigeria.
The Bronx resident, who works in a nursing home, said he first applied to become a citizen in 2012.
“I am happy,” he said, explaining that his new documents reflected the American sensitivity he had acquired during the three decades he spent here.
“A lot has changed — the way I talk, the way I eat, the way I sleep, the way I dress,” he said.
About 40 percent of current American citizens can trace their ancestry to Ellis Island, which opened in 1892.
Today it is part of the Statue of Liberty a National Monument, accessible to the public by ferry and operated by the National Park Service.
At its peak in the early 1900s, thousands of people passed through Ellis Island daily – waiting in long lines for medical and legal checks that sometimes resulted in detention, family separation, or denial of entry.
The ceremony of naturalization contrasting with the conditions immigrants faced at the time was not lost on Warren Lawson, a 44-year-old from South Africa and Britain who has lived in the United States since 2016.
He said he felt lucky to be on the island and “learn about the history and watch it closely.”
Lawson said he wanted citizenship because “this is probably where my kids will live for the rest of their lives, and I want them to grow up in the same place they live.”
“I found my home.”