New citizens celebrate Independence Day at Saguaro National Park
For most, Independence Day is a time to gather with friends, grill hot dogs and watch fireworks blast through the sky. Monday at the Saguaro National Park, 20 people celebrated not with firecrackers, but with hands proudly raised and an oath of allegiance to the United States.
A naturalization ceremony took place in the park’s visitor center at 9 a.m., as citizenship was granted to immigrants from Central Africa, Chile, the Republic of China, El Salvador, the Netherlands, Philippines, South Korea, Syria and the United Kingdom.
Hosted through a partnership of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the National Park Service, this was the fifth annual July 4 ceremony at the Tucson-area national park.
The majority of Monday's new citizens were from various parts of Mexico, including one woman who shared her feelings with the audience.
“It has been a really long process for me and it was really hard,” she said. “I won’t go into detail, but I’m really happy I was able to become a new citizen.”
Those receiving citizenship were there to complete the final step in the process of becoming an American. To become eligible for naturalization, candidates go through a rigorous interview and testing process.
After they completed their oaths to the U.S., they became citizens, able to register to vote and pick up their U.S. passports.
This was Judge Bruce Macdonald’s second year swearing in new citizens against the backdrop of saguaro-covered-hills.
“As this room so wonderfully illustrates, we are a country of immigrants,” he said during the ceremony. “Each of you has traveled a difficult path to reach this country and this part of your life. It continues to be our individuality that makes this nation great, and no one should ask you to give that up.”
The group held small American flags as they watched a video message from President Barack Obama and a performance of the national anthem by Karina Acuna. Several speakers welcomed them into the country and encouraged them to take interest in civic engagement and community volunteering.
This was one of about 100 naturalization ceremonies that took place from June 30 to July 4 countrywide, celebrating the National Park’s centennial year. The agency turns 100 on August 25.
According to USCIS District Director Al Gallmann, an estimated 7,000 gained citizenship during the time just before July 4.
“It’s a special time and we like to do it during the holidays,” he said. “Anything we can do to make the ceremony extra special, a day to remember. This is like a second birthday for these people."
For Gallmann, the partnership between the Park Service and USCIS makes perfect sense.
“This partnership celebrates the beauty, history and future of the United States. I can’t think of a more beautiful or appropriate place to welcome the next citizens of this great country,” he said.
Park Superintendent Darla Sidles was the keynote speaker and said she was honored guests were spending their first minutes as citizens with the National Park Service.
“The parks are more than just the prettiest places in the world,” she said. “They are a collection of where we have been and what sacrifices we have made to get here. They are where our values were formed and who we, the people, are. The places we go in the pursuit of happiness, away from the fast-paced world."
Three naturalization ceremonies also took place in the Phoenix area on July 4 including one before the Arizona Diamondbacks played at Chase Field.
“To many, Independence Day really means baseball, barbecue and fireworks,” said Sidles. “Those are all good and I hope you get to enjoy some of those great American traditions today. But Independence Day really means so much more than most Americans can even contemplate. “