OPINION COLUMNS

Face of America reflected in its newest citizens

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, June 1, 2016
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I felt something unique Thursday as I stood in the ever-growing waiting room, gazing at the collection of faces around me.

Very few looked like mine.

A variety of languages were being spoken, or English spoken in an array of accents.

Suddenly, an announcement was made: “Those candidates for citizenship, please come with me.”

About half of those in the room, including my brother-in-law, followed the gentleman into a large room at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Dallas Field Office in Irving.

The next time those 108 people would leave it, they would be United States citizens.

For many, it was the end of a long journey that included filling out applications, gathering up required documents, submitting to a criminal background check and taking an English language and U.S. civics test as part of an in-person interview.

After the candidates went through a few more administrative procedures, including turning in their permanent residency card, commonly called a “green card,” family and friends were allowed to take their seats along the outside sections of the large room. The back wall featured a painting of the Statue of Liberty and the words “Proud to be an American!” while the front of the room contained a stage with a podium bearing official signage of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

By now, those people from 35 different countries seated in the center of the room all held tiny U.S. flags.

Following a short video and the national anthem, the 35 different countries represented by the candidates were recognized. As each country’s name was called, those men and women would stand.

China.

Ukraine.

Mexico.

Turkey.

When Ethiopia was called, my brother-in-law was the only one to stand.

Directly behind him was the lone representative from Iraq.

Finally, the time had come for the most important part of the naturalization ceremony: the oath of allegiance, which would make their citizenship official.

As part of the oath, the candidates had to renounce any allegiance to any foreign state, to promise to support and defend the U.S. Constitution and laws of the U.S. against all enemies, to bear arms on behalf of the U.S. when required by law, to perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces when required and to perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required.

With raised right hands, each person swore their oath.

A Coptic Christian priest with a long, white beard dressed in a black robe and hat sitting directly in front of me used his phone to record video of an Egyptian man as he took the oath.

As I looked around, family members had tears rolling down their cheeks as they watched their loved ones becoming U.S. citizens.

“Way to go, Grandpa!” one little boy shouted.

In a video message, President Barack Obama welcomed the new citizens while explaining the responsibilities that come along with their new status.

Following the singing of “America the Beautiful” and their first Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S., the brand new citizens filed out row by row to receive their certificates.

As I stood there, watching and taking photos, I couldn’t help but think of how many of our own ancestors had been through a similar ceremony. Nearly everyone in this country can trace their family history back to a foreign country.

And even though one branch of my family tree arrived on these shores only a decade after the Pilgrims arrived, these people in front of me with a variety of different customs, skin colors, beliefs and cultures now have every right as citizens that I have.

The faces may have looked different from mine, but now we’re all called Americans.

As last week’s ceremony reminded me, that’s part of what makes this country great.

Brian Knox is the Messenger’s special projects manager.

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