Editor’s Note: USCIS Director León Rodríguez, who spoke during last year’s national conference of the non-partisan New Americans Campaign, writes that USCIS takes special pride in naturalizing new citizens during Constitution Week.
The U.S. Constitution: it’s a legalistic document that takes about a half-hour to read. Yet it changed the course of history, by encoding the basic principles and values that have managed to sustain our nation as a beacon burning bright for the world for more than two centuries.
Which is why U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) takes special pride in naturalizing new citizens – good people drawn by that beacon — during Constitution Week. These ceremonies are an appreciation of the historic connection to the roughly 4,500 words that these brand-new Americans just swore an oath to support and defend.
That includes the 14th Amendment which made it possible for them to even become Americans. The same sentence that granted citizenship to former slaves also answered a larger question of who is a citizen: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. … ”
During Constitution Week, USCIS honors two events: the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787, and an observance that began in 1940 as “I Am an American Day” that we now call “Citizenship Day.”
At naturalization ceremonies across the country, new Americans will be reminded about the significance of our nation’s Constitution as they celebrate achieving their dreams of becoming United States citizens. Once they recite the Oath of Allegiance, they, too, will enjoy the rights and freedoms we share because of the strides our founders took to secure the “Blessings of Liberty” for all Americans. Our new fellow citizens will now become part of the journey as we continue to create a more perfect Union.
As we honor the importance of citizenship, we also celebrate the ideals enshrined in the Constitution. Those fundamental and enduring principles are as relevant today as they were more than 200 years ago, and have served to guide our nation as it has grown, prospered, and become a beacon of hope and opportunity for millions of people around the world.
Immigrants in the United States have always had a profound impact on our country and the world. They strengthen the fabric of our nation with their contributions to American society and prosperity.
Generations of immigrants have come to this country seeking a place where democracy is not just an ideal, but a reality; where opportunities are available for everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion or country of origin.
Deciding to become a U.S. citizen is a very important and deeply personal milestone in an immigrant’s life. Individuals must demonstrate a commitment to the unifying principles that bind us as Americans and, in return, will enjoy many of the rights and privileges that are fundamental to U.S. citizenship.
To help in that journey, we have launched new tools on our website, uscis.gov, to help our customers. Emma, our interactive virtual assistant, is ready to answer questions in English and Spanish. She will help customers navigate our website to ensure they find the information they need.
Our Citizenship Resource Center is a free, easy-to-use portal that helps users understand the naturalization process and gain the necessary skills to be successful during the naturalization interview and test. Learners, teachers and organizations can find information geared specifically to them, and the portal also provides information in Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
I’m also excited to share the civics practice test videos we have put on our YouTube channel to help customers better prepare for their naturalization test.
Each year we naturalize noncitizens who chose to defend their adopted country by joining the U.S. military. Noncitizen members of the U.S. armed forces and their families can find resources at www.uscis.gov/military.
We are a country built on immigration and by immigrants, as famously noted in Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus” at the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” As the director of USCIS, there is no greater honor than administering the Oath of Allegiance to new U.S. citizens. This week, let us remember and celebrate the importance of citizenship and the Constitution, which promotes “the general Welfare” and “Blessings of Liberty” to America and all of her people.
León Rodríguez is the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For free educational tools and information about citizenship preparation, please visit uscis.gov/citizenship.