POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

As Washington Debates Immigration Reform, New Citizens Urge Action

By David Cruz
Correspondent

Today, 30 immigrants representing 15 countries became American citizens in a City Hall ceremony in Jersey City.

“This is the fun part of the job, yes, the ceremony at the end,” said John Thompson, the district director for the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Service. “This is where they take the actual oath of allegiance to become citizens of the United States.”

Rubens Nelson, a Haitian immigrant, was excited to take the oath. “It’s going to mean that I can serve; I can defend.”

Today’s ceremony comes at the end of a week of rhetorical jousting between the president, who — in the face of huge mid-term losses at the polls — says he will act on his own to initiate immigration reform and Republicans who say he’d be looking for trouble if he did.

“If they want to get a bill done, whether it’s during the lame duck or next year, I’m willing to see what they have to offer,” President Obama said this week. “But, what I’m not going to do is just wait.”

House Speaker John Boehner advised the president against unilateral action. “When you play with matches, you run the risk of burning yourself,” he said, “and he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.”

In a country with more than 10 million undocumented immigrants stuck in the shadows even as they play a critical role in the U.S. economy, the two sides of the debate seem as far apart as ever. For many here, the thought of the president taking some action is welcome.

“People have been here for so long, and working hard, as I did. All the immigrants, I think they deserve a chance to at least get to naturalization and a working permit, so they can get legalized,” said Angelito Tarnate. “I know there are a lot of people. They deserve, they deserve their acknowledgement.”

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop gave the keynote address today. “The end result here is that something needs to happen,” he said. “So within the confines of what’s legal, I think the executive branch needs to act.”

For those of us who can take our status in this country for granted, a ceremony like this can be quite humbling. The general consensus among the new citizens that we spoke to today is that they’d like to see more of these, not less.