In 2015, nearly 730,000 foreign-born people took the oath to become U.S. citizens. That included 1,449 in Idaho. Thursday more joined them in Idaho’s first naturalization ceremony of the year.
Sometimes these ceremonies are done with a lot of pomp at public events like 4th of July celebrations. This one is in the waiting room of a federal office, the kind of place where most days people take a number and wait to talk to someone through a window.
But this day it sees the end of a long wait for 39 expectant citizens. There is also three or four times that number of friends and family packed into Boise’s U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services field office.
They come from 16 countries: Burma, Canada, China, Columbia, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, India, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Marshall Islands, Mexico, The Philippines, Serbia, Thailand and the United Kingdom.
When immigration supervisor Steve Gossett reads that list to the waiting applicants he leaves one out. Then he adds…
“Am I missing anyone? Anyone here from Mexico?”
That gets a laugh and a big round of applause as several of the soon-to-be citizens stand up.
Gossett always saves Mexico for last, since in Boise, Mexicans are always the biggest group. He spends 20 minutes or so reminding the candidates of their next steps and describing how their lives will be different.
Julio Beltran listens but he doesn’t think his life will change in any tangible ways. Beltran says he came to Idaho from Mexico 20 years ago. He says he’s never had any problems living and working here. Becoming a citizen for him he says, is symbolic not practical.
“It means a lot,” Beltran says. “It means everything you know. I am always wanting to be an American so this is pretty important for me. It is my dream you know, to call myself a citizen for me and my kids and my wife.”
They start the ceremony with the pledge of allegiance. Gossett asks the perspective citizens to stand, raise their right hands and repeat after him. Four or five words at a time the 39 people take the oath. It takes about a minute and a half to finish. Here’s what it says.
"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or 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." - Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America
Gossett congratulates them on becoming U.S. Citizens and the room erupts in applause and cheers. It’s not over yet. They watch a video of President Obama congratulating them, then a music video of God Bless America featuring a lot of slowly waving flags and landscape shots.
A young Citizen and Immigration Services employee apologizes in advance for “butchering" everyone’s names. He then reads off each new citizen’s name and other immigration employees bring them each a certificate.
Afterwards the new citizens and their families mill around the crowded room hugging, talking and taking pictures in front of flags and banners.
Martha Liliana Hoyos de Brumbaugh, an immigrant from Columbia, wipes away the tears that streamed down her cheeks during the oath.
“I got very emotional,” Hoyos de Brumbaugh says. “A feeling of belonging… will cry again… part of the country. Because this is home to me. I contribute to this society. I pay taxes in this country. And I want to make part of the development and future of this country.”
This is the end of a process that started when Hoyos de Brumbaugh first came to the states more than 15 years ago. The steps to become a citizen only take three months, but immigrants have to be in the country for specified amounts of time and there’s a lot they have to do before they can apply.
Her husband Gordon Brumbaugh says the whole 15 plus year immigration process has been so difficult and frustrating that for him it’s taken the pleasure out of this day that should be happy. But Hoyos de Brumbaugh says it’s been worth it.
“I respect the country that opened the arms to me,’ she says. “And there’s a right way to do it and be part of it.”
Minyu Yao came here from China more than a decade ago. He says at that time many of his college friends also took jobs in America. He says all have since returned to China, he’s the only one that chose to stay.
“First of all I married this wonderful American lady,” he says hugging his wife. “And then I love this country. [I] Just want [to] have more responsibility as a citizen should.”
The responsibility he most looks forward to is voting. Wanting to vote is something everyone here talks about. But only Valeriya Roseberry, a native of Kazakhstan, will say who she wants to vote for. She likes Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.
Like most of these new citizens Roseberry doesn’t think her life will be very different now that she’s a citizen. But Roseberry says she herself will be different.
“When you walk out of your house or go to do things…it’s the way you feel inside I guess,” she explains. “The way you . . . I don’t know, it’s just an attitude. You feel like there is some stuff to be grateful for and, y’ know, more happy.”
The word she lands on is belonging. Now after the ceremony she feels like she belongs here.
Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam
Copyright 2016 Boise State Public Radio