As a salute to the 150th birthday of West Virginia, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services held a Naturalization Ceremony in Harpers Ferry on Thursday, June 20. At the ceremony, 19 new residents swore their allegiance to the United States.
Valerie Tobias, USCIS Pittsburgh Field Office director, spoke to the small crowd saying that the ceremony was the first she has attended to be held outside. She explained that the USCIS often has the swearing-in ceremonies in National Parks because the parks were created to preserve and protect natural beauty.
"The parks represent diversity of national landscapes," she said. "These new citizens will make up diversity of our culture. I hope that you celebrate your diversity and pass it on to your children and grandchildren," she said to those waiting to be sworn.
There were 15 nations represented by the new citizenry. The candidates for citizenship gave up their citizenship in their home countries which included Barbados, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Italy, Jamaica, Liberia, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa and Vietnam.
Hilda Renee Pinto, from Belgium, spoke to the group about her new citizenship.
"This is a special day," she said in what she termed her first "English speech."
"My American dream has come true," she exclaimed.
Tobias administered the Oath of Allegiance which reads, in part, "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 State of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic...."
Prior to becoming U.S. citizens, individuals must meet certain eligibility requirements. Those include being 18 years or older at the time of filing, being a green card holder for at least five years immediately preceding the filing, having lived within the state or USCIS district for at least three months prior to filing the application, having had continuous residence in the U.S. as a green card holder for at least five years before filing the application for citizenship; being physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application; residing continuously within the United States from the date of application for naturalization up to the time of naturalization; being able to read, write and speak English and have knowledge and an understanding of U.S. history and government (civics); and being a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during all relevant periods under the law.
These guidelines were found at the USCIS website and were met by all 19 of those who took the oath June 20.
In addition to celebrating their new role as American citizens, the group learned a bit of history as James Hayney portrayed President Abraham Lincoln and recited the Gettysburg Address and Rebecca Harriet, superintendent of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, shared some local history.
A prepared statement by Sen. Jay Rockefeller was read which included the words, "May you dream new dreams as Americans."