“As a federal judge, this is the best thing I do. Some say that I get to marry people, but no, because about half of those marriages end up on the rocks. When I get to make new Americans, you guys stay Americans for life. It is the most solemn and wonderful service I get to perform, the creation of brand new Americans.” – Magistrate Judge David E. Jones, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin
The Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office, and the U.S. District Court hosted a naturalization ceremony on March 8, welcoming 129 new American citizens.
With candidates from Afghanistan to Vietnam, the MATC auditorium was packed with friends and family recording the personally significant event. One of those individuals who became an American was Eman Hala, who traveled from Madison with her husband and daughter.
“The ceremony made me feel so excited, and I was in tears because I was so happy to finally be an American citizen,” said Hala. “I have been preparing to be an American citizen since I came to the United States from Egypt in 2009.”
One of the first laws from the first Congress of the United States was the Naturalization Act of 1790, written a year after Constitution. Legend has it that the law was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, who helped write the Declaration of Independence. In that document, one of its complaints with Great Britain was its interference with States nationalizing new citizens. The law shows that founding fathers knew naturalization would be a critical pathway to ensure the vitality of the American experiment.
As part of the ceremony, candidates were required to take an oath that renounced their allegiance to any foreign sovereignty. Judge David E. Jones explained the process, and also reassured the group.
“You are not renouncing allegiance or obligations to family, or custom, or religion, or tradition. You have aspects that gave you the strength and the fortitude to take the journey to be here,” said Judge Jones. “You have imagination and courage that stems from these family ties, and from your religious beliefs, and your traditions, and customs, and language, and foods. We need you to bring these things to America. This is what makes America great. We do not become great by simply adding people who look like me, we become great by adding people who bring all of your differences.”
Judge Jones talked about the meaning of American exceptionalism, and that was really hard to create. The founders of America wanted a nation-state based not on religion, or color, or any sort of physical characteristic that nations had been using for thousands of years. America was based on imagination, freedom, and ideals. A nation of creed, not color. The creed being what Jefferson identified more than two hundreds years ago, that “we hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
“When I first came here from Egypt, the best thing I saw Americans had was their freedom. People can do whatever they want to do for their life here. Everyone welcomed me, and I didn’t expect that, how kind people were to me,” added Hala. “Now that I am a citizen, I can find a job, look for home, and I can vote. Also, I can travel anywhere in the whole world, and come back.”
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Wisconsin Muslim Journal