Over the years I have spoken to many groups, but the group I addressed yesterday was particularly special. I had the great honor of speaking at a naturalization ceremony to a group of twenty-eight new citizens moments after they had taken the Oath of Allegiance.
Hailing from nineteen countries on four continents, these twenty-eight joined in one voice to swear their allegiance to the United States, declaring that they "support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic" and "will bear true faith and allegiance to the same."
It was a powerful moment, but only one of several during the ceremony. After local patriotic and service organizations had extended welcome to our newest citizens, Judge Welsh of the U.S. District Court for Harrisonburg opened up the floor to the new citizens, and a number of them took the opportunity to share why they sought citizenship, and what this country means to them.
The first to speak was an Iranian immigrant who said, "My husband fell in love with this country's capitalism, and I fell in love with this country's people." Another immigrant contrasted the poverty of his home country with the opportunities he has found here. One after another, they cited America's freedom, opportunity, and welcoming people, and in case it wasn't already sufficiently apparent, the miniature flags clutched by their friends and relatives, and the enthusiasm with which these new citizens and their friends and family said the Pledge of Allegiance, testified to the patriotism and love of country already present in these twenty-eight.
This was the first naturalization ceremony I've ever attended, and I just wanted to share some of that experience with you. If you know any of the twenty-eight who became American citizens yesterday, I hope you'll seek them out and congratulate them. And even if you don't, I hope you'll take a moment to reflect upon what citizenship means to you.
As I told these twenty-eight, citizenship is a powerful thing, and in this country, there is no higher title than that of citizen. Those of us who have known nothing else tend to take its privileges for granted - but I can assure you that these twenty-eight do not. We can all learn something from them, and maybe capture a measure of their enthusiasm.
The debate rages on about illegal immigration and its social and economic costs, and the issue returned to the forefront of public consciousness with the passage of controversial legislation in Arizona. It seems worthwhile, therefore, to take a moment to pay tribute to those who pursue citizenship through the naturalization process. We are, after all, nations of immigrants - as well as a nation of laws - and those who go through the process are to be commended - and welcomed.
One of my favorite Presidents, Ronald Reagan, once spoke of receiving a letter that stuck with him. You can go live in Turkey, the letter said, but you can't become a Turk. You can go to live in Japan, but you cannot become Japanese - or German, or French. But, he concluded, "Anyone from any corner of the world can come to America and be an American."
Yesterday, these twenty-eight did just that, and it was moving to behold.
During the ceremony, I could not help but think that this really is what America is all about. This really is a country based on a shared idea, not a shared history, and this diverse group of immigrants, from many nations and just as many walks of life, came together because they share the core convictions that shape our nation; because they believe that America is a great country, and that they wanted it to be their country.
Yesterday, they realized that dream. The rest of us, meanwhile, would do well to reflect, from time to time, on what these immigrants clearly understand: what a great privilege it is to be a citizen of the United States of America.
Thank you for granting me the opportunity to share this experience with you.
With best regards,
Mark D. Obenshain
Virginia State Senator