News

Immigrant Troops Become US Citizens

The five-sided courtyard in the center of the Pentagon hosts a variety of special events.  And there was a particularly unusual one there on a glorious spring day this week.  VOA's Al Pessin reports.

A total of 22 mostly young, mostly low-ranking soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines sat shyly in two rows of chairs, wearing their dress uniforms, surrounded by well-wishers and facing a stage lined with American flags.

ANNOUNCER:  "Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and remain standing for the entrance of the official party."

The deputy secretary of defense, a two-star general, and two officials from the U.S. Immigration Service took the stage.  The 22 service members in the front rows were among the more than 30,000 non-citizens serving in the U.S. armed forces.  And on that day they were becoming American citizens.  Among them was Olu-fola-hanmi Ayo'ola Omotayo Coker, a U.S. Navy seaman from Nigeria.

"If you told me this five years ago, I'd be laughing at you, you know," he said.

Seaman Coker came to the United States five years ago through the visa lottery system, at the age of 30.  He says his family and friends could not believe it when he joined the Navy two years later, in search of adventure.

"When I first signed up, they were looking at me crazy, but I had to let them know the opportunity the Navy's giving me," he recalled.  "And now they see what the Navy is doing for me, and they're proud of me now."

Seaman Coker is a religious program assistant, helping chaplains organize services and other events in all religions.

Sitting nearby is an administrative clerk with a dream, Teresia Kamau, 22, from Kenya, a corporal in the United States Marine Corps.

"People don't really know you're not a citizen unless you tell them you're not a citizen, but it is different because it does come with boundaries," she said.  "You can't do everything an American citizen can do."

Among the things Corporal Kamau could do was be assigned to a seven-month deployment in Iraq in 2006, which she calls "a really great experience."  One of the things non-citizens cannot do is become officers, and that is the next thing Corporal Kamau wants to do.

Before long, it's time to get down to the business of the ceremony.

MASTER OF CEREMONIES:  "Would you please raise your right hands and repeat after me.  I hereby declare on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity..."

The applicants are standing, with their right hands raised, focused on the oath, while the spectators around them are beaming.

MASTER OF CEREMONIES:  "...that I will support and defend the constitution and laws of the United States of America..."

They clutch small American flags, as the buttons on their uniforms sparkle in the sunshine.

MASTER OF CEREMONIES:  "...and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.  So help me God.  Congratulations, you are America's newest citizens."

Major General James Graves welcomes the new citizen service members, who came from 15 countries, mainly in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

"We are a greater country," he said.  "We are a stronger country.  We are a better country today because you have joined us this day as Americans."

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England points out that the honorees volunteered to do something very difficult, that they did not have to do.

"Long before this day, you had volunteered to serve your nation of choice in a most demanding occupation, and during one of the most demanding periods in the nation's recent history," he said. "Will the newly naturalized candidates please rise and come forward to receive your certificate when your name is called.   Corporal Jose De Las Bada Wright.  Petty Officer Third Class Tamisha Houselan."

The new citizens move forward, one by one, to get their citizenship certificates and a handshake and photo with the senior officials.

Last in line is Seaman Coker.

When it's over, family, friends and strangers who happened to be passing through the courtyard gather around to congratulate the new citizens.  Seaman Coker says he feels different than he felt just a few minutes earlier.

"I feel different again now that it's finally here, you know," he explained.  "It's just like they told you you got a check, and now here is the check, you know, you've got it in your hand.  That's how I feel now."

Corporal Kamau has difficulty finding words to describe her feelings.

KAMAU: "It's like more Ahhh!  It's…  [I'm] still excited.  Still excited. 
PESSIN: "Do you feel that something important changed a few minutes ago?"
KAMAU:  "Actually, a lot has changed.  I can put in my officer package tomorrow, so we'll see.  We'll see."
PESSIN: "You've got it ready to go tomorrow?"
KAMAU:  "Yes, I do.  Yes, I do.  That's a funny thing.  I do, so, yeah."

General Graves points out that as legal immigrants, these people were able to join the U.S. military, but now, he says, they can do something more.

"When they become citizens they get to be part of the process of determining what the policy is through the privilege that they have at the voting booth," he said.

The Pentagon says 37,000 service members have taken advantage of a program instituted by President Bush after the September 11th attacks to enable non-citizens in the U.S. military to become citizens through a fast-track process.  Another 22 were added to that number at the Pentagon this week.  Just a few days earlier 159 others participated in a similar ceremony while deployed in Baghdad.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs