New U.S. Citizens Take Oath In Phoenix — Amid Tense Political Climate
More than a million people will be sworn-in as new U.S. citizens this year, thousands of them here in Arizona. But with talk from the Trump administration of building walls, repealing the President Barack Obama’s executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and capping limits on legal immigrants entering the country, those numbers could soon be on the decline.
At a recent naturalization ceremony in Phoenix, we heard how the newest Americans are being welcomed in the current political climate.
At U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services headquarters, 59 newly-minted citizens from 22 different nations are raising their hands when they hear their countries of origin being mentioned.
It’s no surprise that most hands in the room go up in response to the last nation called, Mexico.
On a very special anniversary and with tears in her eyes, 49-year-old Columba Sims is one of them.
“Actually today — you won’t believe this — but I crossed the border for the first time 26 years ago,” she said.
And not legally. Sims admits it was a long and rough road to citizenship.
“I had to do a process that not probably many people have to do through domestic violence. But, you know — it was worth it," said Sims.
Also taking the pledge as a U.S. citizen for the first time is Vaughn Marsh, who made his journey to the Valley from Jamaica on a student visa.
“I have a master's in engineering, and I also have a J.D. (Juris Doctor). My wife is from Arizona. We moved here so we could be next to her family," said Marsh.
When asked if he feels lucky for the opportunity that others may not get, Marsh said he came ready to contribute.
“I think luck favors the prepared. I think I put myself in a position where I wouldn’t be a burden on society,” Marsh said. “I worked hard to get where I am right now, and here we are. It’s a joyous occasion.”
Also among the smiling faces and behind a traditional Muslim veil, the hijab, is Nazk Jabir. Her husband came to the United States from Iraq following the Gulf War in the early 1990s, leaving his family to start a new life for them here.
It took Jabir and their daughter, Mona Jassim, more than two decades to follow him here to Arizona.
“We [couldn’t] come here during that period [after] the war in Iraq. No one [could] come here. It’s very hard,” said Jassim, who translates for her mother. “She said this is the best time in my life. Never have I had happiness like this day.”
Jassim, already a citizen, said the naturalization certificate her mother holds means everything to her and her family.
“To become an American citizen, it changes your life immediately. It’s like you own the world in your hand when you become citizen," Jassim said.
Serving as keynote speaker was Arizona’s Secretary of State Michele Reagan, urging the new citizens to register to vote. And they usually don’t have to be reminded of the privileges of being American.
“The numbers of voters from the naturalized communities is generally higher than those of us that are just born here,” Reagan said. “They will tend to register right away and then vote in every election.”
As for potential changes to legal immigration policy, DACA or structures being built to keep people out, Vaughn Marsh said anything that happens should be meaningful and permanent, not just temporary and symbolic.
“Building a wall is not stopping anything. It’s simply a waste of money,” Marsh said. "Put all your resources into fixing a bipartisan law, immigration law, and that will solve everything.”