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Seventeen immigrants from 14 countries completed their journey to U.S. citizenship during a naturalization ceremony at the University of Dayton School of Law held on Constitution Day.
“Thank you for coming to the United States. Thank you for desiring citizenship. You bring your skills, your talents and your gifts and in doing so you make Dayton and our country more intelligent, more creative, more sophisticated, more capable because of the diversity and the diversity of paths that you’ve walked to be here,” University of Dayton President Eric F. Spina said during the September 18 ceremony.
“I was born into my citizenship, I didn’t have to work for it. You have had to work for yours. There’s a high bar and that work that you’ve done, today culminating in your taking the oath as a citizen, shows your strong determination, your perseverance, and your commitment to the ideals of the United States.”
Immigrants wishing to become U.S. citizens must first obtain permanent residency, known as a “green card,” but not all immigrants are eligible to become permanent residents, said Ericka Curran, an immigration attorney and associate professor of legal professional skills at the University of Dayton School of Law.
Once an immigrant obtains a green card they must wait 3-5 years to apply for citizenship, said Curran, who spoke in an interview before the naturalization ceremony. The Federal Bureau of Investigation does a background check and applicants must also pass an English and civics test.
“I give it to my students so they get a feel for how hard it is to become a citizen,” Curran said.
One of the newly naturalized citizens is Uganda native Jennifer Muhawe, 22, of Dayton, who said she was scared about taking the test.
“But when I passed I was happy,” said Muhawe, who came to the U.S. with her parents as a teenage refugee.
At the naturalization ceremony the immigrants’ green cards were collected by an immigration services official, and they were told that their biological children under age 18 who had green cards would automatically become U.S. citizens.
Representatives of the League of Women Voters of the Greater Dayton Area were there registering the new citizens to vote. Rebecca Bowman, chair of the group’s naturalization committee, said LWV members come to each ceremony to register voters. At the UD event 15 of the 17 newly minted citizens signed up to vote.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Caroline H. Gentry told the assembled immigrants that voting was both a right and a responsibility of U.S. citizens.
“You (also) have the right to run for public office yourselves and I hope that some of you consider doing that,” Gentry said.
U.S. District Judge Michael J. Newman administered the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.
Several immigrants interviewed at the ceremony talked about how excited they were to finally become U.S. citizens.
“I just want to make sure that my sonand my daughter they are both citizens. My parents are citizens, my brother is citizen. They all just encouraged me to become a citizen,” said Anna Patel, 35, a native of India who lives in Cincinnati. “(There isn’t) a big difference between the permanent residency and citizen, it’s just that I cannot vote (as a permanent resident). So that would be of great importance if I can vote.”
Pilote Luck, 21, and his family came to the U.S. about five years ago as refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“I think it’s amazing,” Luck said of his new citizenship. “I’m really thankful to be here at this moment.”
Indiana resident Ginnette Gutierrez, 27, came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic in 2012.
Gutierrez. said she immigrated “because my family was living here. (And) trying to find an opportunity for education.”
Those naturalized at the ceremony at U.D. also included people from Brazil, Colombia, Ghana, Honduras, Mexico, Nepal, the Philippines, Russia, Uganda, the United Kingdom and Vietnam.
More than 3.7 million people became U.S. citizens between fiscal 2015 and 2019, according to a report on the characteristics of people who naturalized during that period. That averaged out to 760,000 people a year and does not include people under age 18, according to the report issued in 2021 by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Most people who naturalized during that five-year period came to the U.S. as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or through family-sponsored preference categories. The top six countries of birth for the newly naturalized people were Mexico, India, the Philippines, China, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, according to the report.
The median age of people who naturalized was 41 and the median length of time spent in legal permanent resident status before being naturalized was 7.7 years, the report said..
The top five states where newly naturalized people resided between fiscal year 2015-2019 were California, New York, Florida, Texas and New Jersey.
Immigrants often move to places where people they know already live, such as the Turkish community in Dayton and the growing Haitian population in Springfield, said Theo Majka, a University of Dayton sociology professor who served on the Greater Dayton Ethnic and Cultural Diversity Caucus and for decades has taught a class on immigration.
“Immigrants tend to adjust pretty well here (in the U.S.),” Majka said. “They get jobs, they get housing, they become integrated in their communities.”
Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
See our series on immigration and the growing Haitian community in Springfield: