Naturalization, Freedom and the Immigration Debate
Just this morning in the Freedom Museum, the privilege of American citizenship was bestowed upon nine members of the armed forces and one spouse. These ten people - already familiar with the sacrifices that come with a life of military service - came fully into the rights and responsibilities afforded to all Americans.
Normally these ceremonies are held in courtrooms, but in honor of Armed Forces Day the Illinois District Court, the Department of Homeland Security and the McCormick Tribune Foundation partnered to arrange for the naturalization ceremony to take place on the ground floor of the Freedom Museum. Already a vibrant showcase of the liberties we hold so dear, it was especially poignant to see the museum play host to these military personnel as they were officially granted those freedoms.
"I always tell new citizens that I have a lot of respect for what they have done," said Judge David H. Coar, who presided over the ceremony. "Most American citizens never had to earn their citizenship - we were born to it. You've especially earned it by virtue of your service in the military."
After a few remarks by museum representatives and a Homeland Security official, the new citizens stood to take the oath of citizenship and then recited the Pledge of Allegiance along with the rest of the assembled crowd. David Grange, a retired Army General and current President and CEO of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, then gave a brief keynote speech.
General Grange's remarks were focused on the strength of the commitment made by each new citizen, especially in the context of the military background that he shares with each of them. He spoke of the responsibilities that come with this commitment, and of comrades-in-arms who laid down their lives for this country before they had the chance to enjoy the benefits of citizenship.
Finally, Grange presented each new citizen with a small, folded American flag to keep in his or her pocket, describing how he himself had carried such a flag in his rucksack through war and peacekeeping operations all over the world.
"Though it may be the most burned flag around the world, it's also the most recognized," he said.
If you haven't ever witnessed a naturalization ceremony, I recommend it. It's a surprisingly stirring occasion - for a moment, as the judge administers the oath of citizenship to the immigrants before you, you are reminded of so many things ordinarily taken for granted. It is a moment taken straight out of a grade school civics book - simple, patriotic, unencumbered by the political debate that rages over immigration in almost every other corner of American life.
In today's America, amidst all the healthy discussion, the divisive political moves and the innumerable problems that have no easy answers for Republicans, Democrats or independents, it's refreshing to experience a moment in which we can all be united for a simple reason. It's important to celebrate the status that few of us have had to earn but that allows each of us to exercise so many essential freedoms: citizenship.