Immigrants become citizens in Maucker



SOFIA LEGASPI, Campus Life Editor

UNI was the site where 120 people became U.S. citizens on Wednesday afternoon, April 17.

Over 600 people, including friends, family, officials and spectators, packed the Maucker Union ballroom for the oath-taking ceremony. The newly naturalized citizens ranged from ages 20 to 87, representing 43 different countries and six continents.

“This is by far the biggest number of people that we’ve had naturalized, and I’m sure by far this is our biggest crowd,” said Mark Grey, professor of anthropology and the chief organizer for the event.

The afternoon began with greetings from Grey and a welcome by Brenda Bass, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

After the opening of court by Deputy Clerk Paul Coberly and another greeting by U.S. District Court Judge C.J. Williams, Julia Cameron Grey led the room in the national anthem.

This was followed by a roll call of the new citizens, the oath-taking and the Pledge of Allegiance. The new citizens then watched video messages from Senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst as well as President Donald Trump, followed by final remarks and the closing of court by Williams.

After the ceremony, many new citizens waved miniature American flags as they posed for photos and enjoyed refreshments that included cake decorated in red, white and blue.

One new citizen was Christopher Hteh, accompanied by his wife and two daughters. Hteh immigrated to the United States from Thailand in 2011, although he was born in Burma. He first lived in South Dakota, then moved to Iowa in 2013.

“I’m so happy,” Hteh said after the ceremony.

“It’s just exciting, you know. Overwhelming,” said a smiling Elenita Tunque, another new citizen who immigrated from the Philippines to Iowa in February 2009.

Every year, over one million U.S. immigrants receive green cards granting them lawful permanent resident status, according to the “2017 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics” compiled by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. About 5,000 of those permanent residents end up in Iowa each year, and half of that number takes the next step into naturalization.

To become eligible for naturalization, immigrants must meet various requirements regarding their length of residence in the United States, the status of their immediate family members and other specifications. In addition to completing an array of paperwork, they must interview with an immigration official and take a citizenship test evaluating their knowledge of U.S. history and civics.

The process of becoming a U.S. citizen culminates in  naturalization ceremonies held across the nation.

Wednesday marked the eighth time UNI has hosted a U.S. citizenship ceremony. Grey has spearheaded the event for all eight years.

“[We] try to do it on an annual basis if we can pull the budgeting together. All of the players, all the partners are always very willing to do it with us,” Grey said. “It takes a lot of moving parts, and if we can pull it all together once a year, we’re very happy.”

Sponsors for the ceremony included the Office of the Provost, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Marshals Services, Maucker Union and the UNI Police.

Among the crowd of supporters was Jodie McGuire of Bettendorf, Iowa. McGuire had come to support her brother-in-law who immigrated from the Bahamas.

“I thought it was pretty neat,” McGuire said. “Like, what the judge said about the way it makes him feel when he does every ceremony—it chokes him up every time. It’s pretty neat.”

Grey shared a similar sentiment regarding the heart-warming nature of the ceremony.

“Oh, I love it. I mean, one of the reasons I organize it is for my own selfish reasons because I enjoy them so much,” he said. “It’s a moving ceremony for me, and you know, I think American citizenship is really very special, and I’m happy when we bring more of them to our country.”