As the chaotic debate over immigration policy continues, there’s a scene of calm and celebration every Thursday at the U.S. Homeland Security building in southwest Charlotte. That’s where about 75 residents complete their journey to this country. They become U.S citizens.
It starts with a roll call of the nations represented. In this ceremony, it's 38 countries. Each person stands when their homeland is named. When all nations are called and everyone is standing, it’s show time. Director of the Charlotte Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Lee Holston moves to the front of the room and asks everyone to raise their right hand before administering the Oath of Allegiance.
The Oath includes a pledge to support and defend the U.S Constitution and renounce allegiances to any other nations and a pledge to bear arms on behalf of the U.S. if called to do so. It takes about two minutes to get through.
One of those clutching his new Certificate of Citizenship along with a tiny American flag afterward is Eric Rwabuhihi. He moved to the U.S. from Rawanda more than a decade ago.
“This has been a long, long journey,” Rwabuhihi says. “This was really special for me because [of what this country stands for]. It’s the land of opportunity. If you want to become what you want to become in this country, it’s possible. I’m very, very happy to be a U.S citizen.”
So is South African-born Carol Kertzman.
“Life is very, very hard where I come from,” Kertzman says. “Crime is bad. Coming here to a free country, I just want to cry. It’s a wonderful thing that I’m here because it means getting away from all of the poverty and stuff like that and having a better chance.”
Kertzman says she disagrees with the federal government separating immigrant children from their parents at the border. While the immigration debate hangs in the air here, it’s shoved aside for right now as the newly-minted citizens turn their thoughts to their own future and new rights. Like several others, Kertzman grabs a voter registration form before leaving.
“It just thrills me to be part of this, to be able to speak to new citizens and try to encourage them to be involved in this government in this country,” Holston says.
He estimates he’s administered the Oath of Allegiance to groups like this more than 700 times.
“I try to make it meaningful for them so that it’s not just a bunch of words,” Holston says.
Rather, he hopes, it’s an ethic they’ll keep in mind as they begin their new lives as U.S. citizens.