Major U.S. officials have often presided over the naturalization ceremonies of new Americans, including President Biden, who hosted 21 immigrants at the White House last July as part of Independence Day celebrations. Late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presided over ceremonies twice in 2018, after reading an article about the free naturalization courses offered to immigrant hopefuls by New-York Historical Society’s Citizenship Project.
Last weekend, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland joined that list, swearing in 200 new U.S. citizens at Ellis Island on Saturday. During the remarks, Garland pointed to his own family’s ties to the historic site. But Garland during the speech also “warned that the country had become dangerously divided by political factionalism, which has imperiled the democracy and the rule of law,” The New York Times reported.
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“It is my great honor to welcome you as the newest citizens of the United States of America,” Garland said in remarks. “I know that you have made sacrifices in order to be here today. You should be proud of all you have accomplished. I am proud of you.”
“I come from a family of immigrants who fled religious persecution early in the 20th Century and sought refuge here in the United States. Some of my family entered right here, at Ellis Island,” he continued. “My grandmother was one of five children born in what is now Belarus. Three made it to the United States, including my grandmother who came through the Port of Baltimore.”
Garland said two relatives did not make it here. “Those two were killed in the Holocaust. If not for America, there is little doubt that the same would have happened to my grandmother.” The New York Times reports that Garland was frequently emotional during the speech. But while this nation may have offered his ancestors sanctuary, Garland warned, “The Rule of Law is not assured. It is fragile. It demands constant effort and vigilance.” He clearly pointed to, but didn’t directly name, Republicans’ efforts to overturn election results and intimidation campaigns against everyday Americans.
“The responsibility to ensure the Rule of Law is and has been the duty of every generation in our country’s history,” he continued. “It is now your duty as well. And it is one that is especially urgent today at a time of intense polarization in America.”
“We are all in this together. We are all Americans,” he said (read his full remarks here). “On this historic day and in this historic place, let us make a promise that each of us will protect each other and our democracy.”
The 200 new U.S. citizens are just some of the more than 19,000 immigrants expected to become American on paper as part of Citizenship Week, happening now through Sept. 23. The ceremony at Ellis Island is one of more than 235 expected across the nation through that date. Ellis Island itself welcomed millions of immigrants, mostly from Europe, who arrived with no prior permission or visa. The U.S. immigration system as we know it today did not yet exist.
“My own father arrived in this land at age 13 with no fortune and speaking no English,” Ginsburg said in her remarks at the National Archives in 2018. “My mother was born four months after her parents—with several children in tow—came by ship to Ellis Island. My father and my grandparents reached, as you do, for the American dream. What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York City's Garment District and a Supreme Court Justice? One generation.”
President Biden said in his July 2021 remarks that while the assembled group came from many different nations, “there is one trait you all share in common: courage. It takes courage to get up and leave everything you know and go to another place, no matter where it is.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in its release this month, touted efforts by the Biden administration to promote naturalization. Despite that immigration commitment, the Biden administration is reportedly seeking to expand Stephen Miller’s debunked Title 42 order.
Among immigrants recently sworn in as U.S. citizens is Clarissa Vivian-Petrucci, who told Your Valley Central it was “a very important day for me as a Mexican American.”
”My heart is binational,” she told the central California media outlet. “The love doesn’t divide, the love multiplies. You love two countries now. This is the country that has provided so much, but also we come from somewhere, and it’s in our DNA.”
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