HONOLULU (CN) — A naturalization ceremony held in Honolulu at the Japanese Cultural Center’s Manoa Grand Ballroom on Wednesday saw 88 people welcomed as new U.S. citizens.
Following an oath of allegiance and brief remarks by U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang and guest speaker Ben Guttierez of Hawaii News Now, the men and women aged 18 to 70 filed out to an airy lanai to chat with family members and pose for photos, wreathed in flower leis and clutching certificates of naturalization.
The 10 a.m. ceremony began with a video called “Faces of America,” which showed archival stills of immigrants at Ellis Island and photos up to the present time.
Then Chang’s courtroom manager Leslie Sai banged a gavel on the dais, bringing several hundred people to attention at once. “Court is now in session. All rise for the Honorable Judge Chang.”
The Hickam Air Force Honor Guard posted the colors, and a traditional recording of “The Star-Spangled Banner” played amid the burbling of infants. Some of those present held their right hands over their hearts.
“This session is called for final disposition of petitions for citizenship,” Immigration Services officer Arlene Orsino said. “Each applicant has been examined and met requirements, and demonstrated knowledge of American history and government. They can all speak, read and write English.”
The applicants then stood and raised their right hands to swear the oath of allegiance, led by Sai: “I swear to renounce and abjure all loyalty to any prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty unto which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, so help me God.”
In a recorded video address, President Barack Obama declared it “an honor and a privilege” to welcome the new citizens, reminding them of the duty as well as the privilege of living in a country united “not by ideology, but by principles of liberty and opportunity.”
Judge Chang recalled his grandparents, who immigrated from China; his father, who worked for the post office for 35 years and his mother who was a teacher on Molokai; and finally his own law school studies as an example of the promise of opportunity in America.
Guttierez, a journalist and news anchor, also spoke of his family. The son of Filipino immigrants, Guttierez recalled the long, boring waits as a child for subsequent arrivals of family members at immigration. The family now has members around the nation: an artist in New York, a nurse on Cape Cod and a police officer on Big Island.
“Don’t forget to exercise the right to vote!” Guttierez said.
After the pledge of allegiance and a soulful recording of “America the Beautiful” — third verse first, in the style of Ray Charles — Judge Chang gave his final thought.
“I wish you happiness, good health, and success in all your future endeavors,” he said.
The new citizens then picked up their naturalization certificates and registered to vote before filing out.
Pfc. Vega, a serviceman from American Samoa and student at Brigham Young University, admired his certificate with his wife.
A blonde Russian woman posed for a photo with her friend.
Abihishek Duggal, who runs a computer consulting service called Connecting the Dots, spoke of the long journey of becoming a citizen. Though Duggal began the formal application process just this year, he came to Hawaii from India in 2000 on a student visa. He stayed in the country on a work visa, then a green card.
“The wait was the hardest part,” he said.
Angelica Concepcion similarly has been in the United States for 10 years, but was surprised how quickly the final process took shape.
“From February to May,” she said — after her permanent-resident status expired.
Concepcion, who changed her last name to her father’s, came to be with family and for opportunity.
“It feels amazing,” she said.
Jan, also from the Philippines, said he has been here for eight years. “It’s home,” he said.
Eligibility requirements to apply for citizenship through naturalization include in most nonmilitary cases being 18 years old, a holder of a green card for at least five years, and a person of “good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States.”
Applicants must complete an application for naturalization Form N-400 for the Department of Homeland Security, gather documents, submit to an interview, take English and civics tests, and take the oath.
After being naturalized, new citizens are eligible to update their social security status, vote, and apply for a U.S. passport.
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