Naturalization Fast Facts
- During the last decade, more than 6.5 million people were naturalized.
- To become a citizen, one must be at least 18 years of age; be a lawful permanent resident with a green card for at least five years; be a person of good moral character; speak, read and understand English; have knowledge of the U.S government and history; and take the Oath of Allegiance.
- 75 percent of naturalized citizens reside in 10 states – California, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Virginia, Massachusetts, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
- In a typical year, the top countries of origin for naturalization were in the following order: Mexico, India, the Philippines, Dominican Republic and China.
- The United States has the highest total number of immigrants, being home to 19 per cent of the world’s immigrants.
With the Calico Hills as a vivid backdrop, 73 immigrants from 27 nations became U.S. citizens, bringing enough beaming smiles to brighten an unusually grey and slightly rainy March Saturday morning.
“The United States is a grand melting pot, and we are all better off by sharing our cultures and experiences,” U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Gordon told the newest citizens moments after swearing them in before ecstatic families and friends.
“As a citizen, you have the right to criticize the government,” he explained. “You have the right to say that Congress should allocate more resources to protecting and making available great natural resources like this one (at Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area). You have the right to disagree with the President’s policies. You have the right to say that judges are too lenient or too severe in their sentences.
“But, you also have an obligation to do something about it. Don’t just criticize; get involved in the process and change what you don’t like.”
Read Judge Gordon’s full remarks. Click here.
That message resonated palpably with the new citizens, many coming from countries that suppress freedoms that U.S. citizens too often take for granted, noted Judge Gordon.
“Today, I leave the pain from my past,” Artak Malkhasyan from Armenia told his fellow new citizens. “Now I can talk freely,” he marveled, his voice rising in excitement. “It’s all about freedom of speech… Live the moment. You have no idea what influence you can have on one another now… how human kind can change the world.”
Throughout the ceremony, the power of place resonated as deeply as the ever-present Calico tones stretched behind an American flag where family after family posed with pride for photos to commemorate their personally historic passages.
“You are looking at one of the most visited sites in the nation,” said Catrina Williams, Red Rock’s field manager. “As citizens, they are your public lands.”
“Now, you too are stewards of Red Rock,” Tom Lisby, president of Friends of Red Rock Canyon, told the new citizens who come from Australia to Ethiopia, from Mexico to Vietnam. “They belong to your children and grandchildren and their grandchildren. Join us to care for this special place.”
Friends, with 600 members, co-hosted the naturalization ceremonies by offering each new citizen free membership while also providing breakfast and as a flag-festooned celebratory cake. Many volunteers from Friends were involved during the entire morning – from controlling traffic to helping move the event inside the visitor’s center as rain began falling a half hour before the scheduled swearing in.
“Excited.” “Nervous.” “Amazing.” “I can’t believe this is happening.” The new citizens repeated these phrases from the moment they arrived – some as early as 7 a.m. for the 10 o’clock ceremony.
Many talked emotionally about finally being able to join their own children, who were born in the United States, as fellow citizens.
Brittany Brooks, assistant field manager at Red Rock, found herself emotional as well, confessing to happy tears as she watched how family after family gathered in hugs, waved flags and often marveled at the hills beyond.
She commended all that Friends contributes to make the ceremony a possibility. “The ceremony couldn’t take place without Friends’ contributions and commitment,” said Brook
As the formal ceremony got underway, Wayne Leroy of the Southern Nevada Elks encouraged the new citizens to “keep that smile for the rest of your lives. The Elks distributed hand-held American flags to all the new citizens. “They are far more than cloth,” he told them. The red stripes represent the blood spilled by generations of patriots, the white represents the tears of those who lost loved ones in wars and the stars unify the 50 states.
As the sounds of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” blared across the visitor’s center, every new citizen in unison waved the flags from upraised arms while proudly clutching certificates attesting to their new status.
“I was exactly in your shoes in 2004,” U.S. Congressman Ruben Kihuen, whose family emigrated from Mexico, told the assemblage. “My parents wanted a piece of the land of opportunity… They came with less than a hundred dollars in their pockets and no job or place to live.”
And now their son is serving in the U.S. Congress, he said. “Let that sink in.”
U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez-Musto shared her story too. “We are all descendants of immigrants. “One of my grandfathers was from Italy and the other from Mexico. I think about that (every time) I walk into the Senate,” she said.
Red Rock was very much on Cortez-Musto’s mind as she spoke to the new citizens, sharing stories of hiking and camping when she was as young as five years old with her Mexican-American grandfather. “Now, the same Red Rock Canyon belongs to each of you,” she said.
Judge Gordon concluded the ceremonies connecting Red Rock to the lyrics of folk singer Woody Guthrie, who sang “This land is your land. This land is my land. From California to the New York Island.”
“As a citizen, this land trul now is your land.”