Obama hosts Independence Day naturalization ceremony for members of the armed forces
President Obama speaks to service members at a naturalization ceremony at the White House.
By EMILY DERUY
While most people were busy setting up grills for backyard barbecues or watching parades this morning, President Obama welcomed more than two dozen active service members to the White House for a naturalization ceremony.
The service men and women took an oath of allegiance to the United States before their friends and families, signaling their status as naturalized citizens.
Family members and friends look on as the service men and women who became naturalized citizens file into the East Room of the White House.
Speaking to the crowd of about 200, Obama said, “Our society is not possible without the generations of immigrants who have come to our shores.”
Obama, whose father was from Kenya, added that it was an honor for him to serve as commander in chief.
The president also took the opportunity to mention the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform, saying, “We are still perfecting our union.” He named “lifting the shadow of deportation” from some young people as an accomplishment.
Specialist Carlos Eduardo Navichoque, who was born in Guatemala and enlisted in 2009 before deploying to Iraq in March 2010, said it was a very emotional day for him.
“I’m very proud,” he said. “This is one of the great nations.”
Cristian Felipe Zapata Gil, who was born in Colombia and serves in the Army as a watercraft engineer, said he felt part of the country when he became a soldier, but becoming a citizen intensified that feeling.
Cristian Felipe Zapata Gil was born in Colombia. He now serves in the military as a watercraft engineer.
When asked whether becoming a citizen changes his feelings about being in the military, he said, “No, no, I’ve always been a U.S. soldier.”
The service members, men and women from countries as diverse as Guatemala and Nigeria, Russia and China, were greeted in the East Room by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas, a naturalized citizen himself. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano delivered the oath of allegiance.
Asking those taking the oath to raise their right hands and repeat after her, she joked that, “This oath is pretty long,” before continuing.
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano speaks as President Obama looks on.
“You put your lives on the line for this country before you could be called Americans,” she said. “You have earned the rights and responsibilities…America is your country.”
Obama has hosted similar naturalization ceremonies twice before, in May 2009 and April 2010. Since 2001, more than 80,000 members of the armed services have become naturalized citizens.
Obama, who is also celebrating first daughter Malia’s 14th birthday today, said attending such ceremonies is among his favorite things to do as president. He will also honor service men and women at a barbeque with military families this evening.
White House staff prepare corn for a barbeque to honor military men and women.
“What a perfect way to celebrate America’s birthday,” Obama said.
(Photos: Emily DeRuy)