National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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With malice toward none

April 28, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

America is a nation of nations. We touch every nation and every nation touches us in return. This is our history, this is our tradition, this is the source of strength.
- Gen. Colin Powell USA (Ret.), at a citizenship swearing in ceremony on the National Mall, April 12, 2009.

Immigrants at swearing-in ceremony
Candidates for citizenship, listening to Gen. Colin Powell deliver the keynote address at
their citizenship swearing-in ceremony. Photo: Maurice Belanger

Before they become citizens, immigrants must study and take a test on U.S. History and Government. At the end of the process, assuming they’ve passed all their background checks and tests, they are sworn in by taking the Oath of Allegiance in a ceremony that might be very simple or, in the case of a recent ceremony on the National Mall, might be part of history itself.

This year is the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, and the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission has been organizing a series of events to celebrate this milestone.  On Easter Sunday, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the Commission organized an event that featured a concert commemorating the 70th anniversary of the famous performance by contralto Marian Anderson, who sang before tens of thousands of people on the Mall after being denied a performance at Constitution Hall.  Mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves sang three songs from that historic performance, in a program that also included, among others, General Colin Powell reading Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

The program culminated with the swearing-in ceremony of 191 immigrants from 56 countries, from Canada to Argentina, and from Sweden to South Africa.  General Powell gave the keynote address to the candidates for citizenship, reflecting on the strength our nation derives by being open to immigrants from all nations.  He told the story of his own parents, immigrants from Jamaica, who watched their children succeed in ways they scarcely could have imagined. 

In the midst of the immigration wars, in which the airwaves are saturated with the vitriolic sound bites of the cable news and talk radio personalities who make their living by dividing Americans against each other, it was refreshing to be a part of this very important moment in the lives of this diverse group of people.  Such ceremonies, in which immigrants declare their allegiance to America, take place every day.  They may be less majestic than a ceremony on the National Mall, but in each we honor the commitment of a new group of immigrants as they become Americans by choice.


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