Immigrants take oaths at University’s first citizenship ceremony
Thirty-four women and men from 17 countries spanning five continents were naturalized yesterday, marking the end of their months-long journeys to become American citizens.
The Eagleton Institute of Politics’ Program on Immigration and Democracy hosted the ceremony on Douglass campus — the first at the University.
“New Jersey has 400,000 green card holders — well, it has 34 less after today — but we want to extend the resources of Rutgers to help those people move into citizenship and assume those rights and responsibilities,” said Anastasia Mann, program director.
The citizenship candidates hailed from China to Ukraine and live in Middlesex and Somerset counties. Mann said New Jersey is a very diverse state, as about one-quarter of its residents are foreign-born.
Isabel Nazario, associate vice president for Academic and Public Partnerships in the Arts and Humanities, thanked the candidates for choosing to become United States citizens.
“It’s the new citizens that really create a new energy. I know this nation will be in better shape in the future because you are the new citizens, and your children will bring good things to our nation,” she said.
At the University, about half of its students are foreign-born or have foreign-born parents, Mann said.
Marlon Avellan, a University Ph.D. candidate who led the ceremony’s Pledge of Allegiance, officially became a citizen a couple of weeks ago through the help of Eagleton’s program.
Avellan’s family moved from Costa Rica to Bridgewater in 2006 when he was 19 years old. His father, who worked in the American Embassy in Costa Rica, wanted to move his family to the United States so they would have better opportunities.
After taking English courses, he enrolled in Raritan Valley Community College’s mechanical engineering program and received his associate’s degree.
“The science and math is pretty much the same [as in Costa Rica],” Avellan said. “I just had to learn the terms. It was a challenge but not impossible.”
With the help of tutors and professors, he then completed his undergraduate degree in the same field here at the University, graduating last May with high honors. Now, the 24-year-old is working toward a Ph.D. in thermal science here.
Avellan said the program helped his family complete their dream of naturalization in less than six months. He and his family attended information sessions and lawyers helped them apply that day.
“We’re very grateful. We would’ve been so lost,” he said.
At the ceremony, Institute Director Ruth Mandel shared her tale of immigrating as a child to the United States during World War II with her family.
Though she did not have a celebratory ceremony when she became a citizen, she remembers the day — a clear morning in May — that she saw the Statute of Liberty.
“It is that lady in the harbor that is my indelible moment of arrival and my coming to America,” Mandel said.
Mandel’s parents embraced their newfound right to vote and they participated in every election. But they would not do more — such as write letters to editors, protest or make calls to policymakers — out of fear. They felt if their native Austrian government could turn against them, so could their new country.
“I wish you the honor and privilege of participating in all the precious freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution. And in addition, in your life as an American, I wish you forever the freedom from fear,” she said.
The program, which was founded in 2007, launched “Citizenship Rutgers” this semester to aid legal, permanent residents in applying for U.S. citizenship, said Mann, who is also an assistant research professor. The program to date has helped about 250 people.
John Thompson, district director of the Newark Field Office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said there are many requirements candidates must complete before qualifying for naturalization. Some include: being a lawful permanent resident for five years (three if married to a U.S. citizen), being of good moral character, being able to speak English and having basic knowledge of U.S. history and governmental institutions.
On average, the naturalization process takes about four months in New Jersey. The office naturalized 35,000 people last year, Thompson said, though the number fluctuates.
Mann said the Institute’s relatively new program has a three-fold mission — to help policy makers and scholars understand immigration, to educate others and to serve communities.
She said immigrants are important to the United States because they pay taxes, contribute to all sectors of the economy and add to the cultural tapestry that makes up America.
She also said they represent America’s founding as a nation of foreigners.
“You’re part of a storied history,” she said to the candidates. “Without you, where would we be?”
Correction: In an earlier version, the length of residency required to qualify for naturalization was incorrect. It is five years of legal permanent residency, or three if married to a U.S. citizen.