Today, while looking for the American Federation of Teachers conference at the L.A. convention center, I ran across an enormous naturalization ceremony. Thousands of “applicants” who were about to take the oath of citizenship stood patiently in line while their families shopped for patriotic gear and leather-bound cases for naturalization certificates. I suddenly remembered my own experience of swearing in as a U.S. citizen.
It was nearly 27 years ago. I was ten. I filed into an air-conditioned courtroom in the midst of a searing Chicago summer with my parents and several dozen other new Americans, most from southeast Asia. I remember the ceremony vividly, though I was allergic to some vicious pollen in the air that year and sniffled throughout much of the proceeding, until it was time to raise my right hand and, with my parents, repeat after the judge.
I must have talked a lot about becoming a citizen, because to this day one of my friends from the neighborhood laughs about how she went home and told her mother that she had met an alien–from outer space. I think I used the word “alien” fairly liberally because I didn’t feel there was any negative connotation to it. I wasn’t from Mars and I didn’t have a flying saucer, so “alien” suited me just fine. If anything, it made citizenship sweeter.
My wife has similar positive recollections about becoming a citizen. She was sworn in during Navy boot camp, along with a room full of new Americans–and future sailors–who took the oath with tears streaming down their grateful faces. Imagine devoting your life to defending a country and its laws and then, in the process of making that great commitment, being accepted as a full member of the nation. Legal immigration is a beautiful thing.
Outside the convention hall, there were tents and tables set up by the local Democratic Party branches, with signs printed in several different languages, urging new citizens to register to vote. “DEMOCRATS REGISTER TO VOTE,” the signs said. I asked one of the people working the tables if Republicans could register, too. “Sure,” I was told. It was quite telling, however, that no Republicans had shown up to offer that alternative.
Registering new voters is likely the primary thought on the minds of Democrats who have championed the cause of amnesty–the result of which is the crisis on the southern border today. Another result is that it has become extremely difficult to immigrate legally. Waiting times have skyrocketed because, at President Barack Obama’s insistence, the immigration bureaucracy is prioritizing those who came illegally to the U.S. as children.
Today, though, there were few customers for voting–or for Democrats. Just lots of happy families, joining the American story. On the other end of the convention center, I finally found the American Federation of Teachers, whose president was denouncing the recent Vergara decision, which found teacher tenure laws to be unfair to poor and minority kids. Many of the new citizens are probably stuck in that troubled public school system.
But many will succeed regardless, because they have come this far. They obeyed the law and they took the test and they survived the bureaucratic ordeal. Citizenship means something when it is earned. I know, because I was proud of my parents for having earned it, and proud to have helped them. The rule of law is what makes America great. Our new fellow Americans have continued that greatness by doing things the right way.