American by choice
Vida en el Valle
(Published Tuesday, July 17th, 2012 03:39PM)
WEST SACRAMENTO -- One of the hottest days of the summer did not keep 1,321 immigrants representing 81 countries from becoming the newest citizens in the United States.
The ceremony -- a right of passage for many immigrants -- acknowledges and celebrates the citizenship status of those who successfully complete all of the requirements to become naturalized citizens.
Nearly 3,000 guests sat on the bleachers at the Raley Field last Tuesday, fanning themselves with hand-made paper fans, drinking plenty of water or purchasing ice cream in an effort to keep cool while they watched loved ones stand before them, waving the American flag in the air as they recited the Oath of Allegiance.
California State University Sacramento student body president Mónica Cortéz was one of the few guests who arrived to show support for young high school and college students who became new citizens.
"Young people tend to be overlooked at naturalization ceremonies," said Cortez, 22.
"As a college student, I think it's important to be here and show support for my classmates and peers and to recognize students who are not only working toward getting a college degree, but also going through the process to become citizens."
When her parents uprooted from Michoácan, México, they settled in a tiny community in Oregon. The weather was different, the food and the language. But, the struggles of having to emigrate proved to be worthwhile when Cortéz and her siblings decided to go to college and make a difference in their community -- one of the main messages ceremony organizers stressed to new citizens.
"The decision to come to the United States is undoubtedly a difficult one for most families. But, when they are here, it is of utmost importance they participate in American life and give back to their communities, get involved and engage," said Michael Biggs, field office director for USCIS.
In the last 10 years, the U.S. has welcomed more than 6.6 million naturalized citizens. Last year, approximately 691,616 people became naturalized citizens and 400,885 have been naturalized so far this year. The number is expected to grow.
In 2011, 73 percent of all persons naturalizing resided in California, Florida, New York, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, Georgia, Washington and Pennsylvania.
In Sacramento, naturalization ceremonies, which were traditionally held monthly since April 24, 2008, were no longer taking place effective January this year.
Those ceremonies at both the Crest Theatre in downtown and the Memorial Auditorium on J Street had about 1,000 participants or more, according to Sharon Rummery, USCIS public affairs officer.
But on January 24 this year, USCIS administered the final large naturalization ceremony at the Memorial Auditorium and the last regular monthly ceremony in Sacramento. Approximately 1,717 people took their oath.
"We kept outgrowing the venues where we were holding the ceremonies and it was becoming really time-consuming and costly to get local judges to administer the oath not once but twice or three times depending on the number of naturalized citizens," said Rummery.
Instead, USCIS officials were given authority to privately administer the ceremonies daily on their own -- usually in the afternoons -- with newly naturalized citizens, helping USCIS reduce costs and alleviating the stresses of having to find better, more suitable locations to hold the ceremonies that could accommodate up to 1,000 people.
The change also helped alleviate USCIS's heavy case load.
Rummery said careful consideration was also given to the new citizens who often had to travel not once, but twice to Sacramento -- once to complete their application and interview as required by the naturalization process and a second time for approval and participation in the naturalization ceremony.
"Some of the people who are becoming citizens drive pretty far to get here. We have people come from Redding or Lake Tahoe and since we live in a world where the cost of gas is $4 a gallon and many of these people are working hourly jobs, it seemed best to save these people money, time and an extra trip down to Sacramento," said Rummery.
The Sacramento USCIS Field Office serves 23 counties in northeastern California from Stanislaus to Siskiyou.
Of all the naturalized citizens, México was the country most represented last week with nearly 235 new citizens followed by the Philippines with 226; and India with 129. Twenty-two nations were represented by a single new citizen.
Emma and her husband Pedro De Escoto, natives of Jalisco who now reside in Citrus Heights, were one of the few couples who became naturalized citizens and were thankful both of their applications, interviews and participation in the ceremony were completed at the same time.
"My husband and I have been legal residents for a long time but this March we decided to become citizens to provide more opportunities for our children. It is very important to us," said De Escoto, 36.
The couple came to the United States in 2005 for better working opportunities. Emma, who is a care giver, and her husband, who works in construction, felt a strong desire to participate in the political process this year.
"We keep seeing these negative things on the news against Latinos, so many laws that are passing are against us and I consider them discriminatory and racist. So, this year, we will vote," said De Escoto.
They are hoping their new status provides for better opportunities for their children.
"There are so many benefits to becoming a citizen. It was really important for my wife and I to become citizens because that is the only way we can open doors of opportunities for ourselves," said Pedro, 60.
"And, we can't expect our children to have more opportunities than the ones we had in México or here in the United States if we don't take the simple steps of becoming American citizens first," added Emma.
As dozens of non-profit organizations and county clerk representatives lined up outside Raley Field to register new citizens to vote, volunteers said they witnessed record-breaking numbers in people registering to vote.
"I think we have reached a point in our society where Latinos have said, enough is enough. People are tired of the political bickering and the polarizing partisan politics that is currently taking place in our country," said Carlos Alcalá, a community activist and voting registration volunteer.
"We have had one of the best turn-outs for voting registration and its because of laws like SB 1070 and the DREAM Act. When we educate voters and tell them about the different political platforms and how representatives from each party have been voting recently, its enough motivation to call them into action," said Alcalá.
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