Citizens On Deck: Historic Naturalization Ceremony Held Aboard The USS Alabama

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Citizens on deck: Historic naturalization ceremony held aboard the USS Alabama

In a historic occasion, a group of about two dozen people officially became United States citizens Friday morning in a ceremony held aboard the deck of the battleship USS Alabama.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Nelson, who conducted the ceremony, noted the significance of the event early in her remarks. For one thing, she said this was "the first time U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama has held a naturalization ceremony outside of the courthouse boundaries." For another, the audience included a conclave of 17 more judges, which Nelson was "the largest complement" of members of the state and local bar she'd ever seen at such an occasion.

Representatives of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had more news to share: The service has announced that it will open a new field office in Alabama next year. Having an office in Montgomery means aspiring citizens in Alabama will no longer have to travel to Atlanta to handle bureaucratic steps in the process leading to full citizenship.

"Today we have the privilege of witnessing 21 individuals from 15 different countries around the world take an oath of allegiance as they become new citizens of the United States of America," said Nelson.

In addition to Nelson's remarks, the citizenship candidates received an address from Carlos Williams, federal defender for the southern district of Alabama, who spoke about his own experience as a naturalized citizen. He'd first come to the United States at age 16, to visit relatives. "I wasn't sure I would stay," he said. "I wasn't sure I wanted to stay." He said he was overwhelmed by the size and energy of the country, particularly since he arrived in New York City.

Those doubts vanished long ago, he said, as American opportunities had brought him a life beyond his wildest dreams. "And I'm all the better for it," he said.

"Become a part of the fabric of what is this country," Williams encouraged the newly-minted citizens. "It will change you as it changed me. It will move you, as it moved me."

"The people here want the same thing you want," he said. "They want a better life for themselves and their children."

Speakers also included Pete Mackey, president of the Mobile Bar Association, who spoke about how impressed he'd been, over the years, by the determination of people seeking citizenship. Native-born Americans might take it for granted, he said, but for others it was a process that demanded hard work, study and persistence.

"You folks don't take this for granted at all," Mackey said. "I can see it in your faces."

Afterward, the new citizens mingled with friends and family congratulating them on their accomplishment. Among them was Maria Koury Wynn, a native of Brazil. "I was happy and nervous at the same time," she said of the ceremony.

She said she'd pursued citizenship since coming to the country five years ago. "It's not an overnight thing," said her husband, Bob Wynn of Bon Secour.

Nelson said that she'd officiated a number of naturalization ceremonies, which usually are held twice a year in Mobile. The battleship was a fitting location for one, she said: "It punctuates what a profound experience this is and how hard these people have worked," she said.

Pamela Wilson, a public affairs officer for the Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the agency's Alabama office will make that work a little easier. It's expected to open in January, she said, in a building formerly used by the Social Security administration.

"It'll benefit many people here who are seeking citizenship," she said. And that in turn benefits society at large, she said, as immigrants who follow the process join American society.

"The legal path to citizenship is so important," she said. They might often be overshadowed by the debate over illegal immigration, but "you have people standing in line every day, filling out paperwork," she Wilson said.

The Atlanta office currently serves Georgia and Alabama, and oversaw the naturalization of more than 25,000 new citizens last year, Wilson said. 

Source : http://www.al.com/news/mobile/index.ssf/2016/04/citizens_on_deck_historic_natu.html

Citizens on deck: Historic naturalization ceremony held aboard the USS Alabama
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