Fifty-Six people from 23 different countries became new U.S. citizens Friday in a ceremony in New City on Friday.
The citizenship ceremony, which took place in the Rockland County Courthouse on Main Street, featured a keynote address by Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and music from Valley Cottage resident Michael Mark.
The new citizens come form countries around the world, from Canada to Thailand and many places in between. Many of the countries had only one or two immigrant representatives, but 15 of the 56 participants in the ceremony came from Haiti, making up 26.79 percent of the total. Other popular countries were the Philippines (7 participants), Dominican Republic (5 participants) and Poland (5 participants).
The naturalization process usually takes around a year to complete. Rockland holds naturalization ceremonies every two months, though usually there are usually closer to 150 participants at each one, according to Rockland County Clerk Paul Piperator, whose office coordinates the process locally.
The ceremony began with the advance of the colors by various Rockland veteran groups and then a prayer led by Marvin Joachim from the Jewish War Veterans.
After this, Piperato led the participants in the oath of allegiance to the United States of America. The oath read in part, “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic […] and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."
Both Spring Valley Mayor Jasmin and Thomas E. Walsh, acting Justice of the Supreme Court, made remarks to the new citizens. They especially emphasized the new power of voting that the immigrants now have and told them to use this power wisely. The message from Jasmin was particularly poignant, as she herself is a Haitian immigrant. She came to America as a teenager.
“It’s interesting because these people chose to be citizens, whereas many like myself, I didn’t choose; I just was born here,” said state Sen. David Carlucci, D-New City, who attended the ceremony. “I think these are hard-working people who didn’t sit back but went through the process of naturalization. It’s not an easy process. It’s an expensive and a lengthy process, so you really got to be committed. So these are people who want to be citizens, and I think they’ll be engaged in the community and help make Rockland County a better place to live.”
In fact many local government officials were in attendance, including Clarkstown Town Clerk Justin Sweet, D-New City, Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City, and Carlucci. Carlucci noted afterwards that he tries to attend as many of Rockland’s naturalization ceremonies as he can, and that he was able to attend Friday’s since the state's new budget was passed early.
“It’s a reminder of what our rights are here in the United States, and how we’re really I think blessed to be citizens in this nation, and how diverse it is too,” Carlucci said. “All the different countries, it’s just wonderful.”
After the new citizens took their oath and listened to the speeches, they also got to listen to some music courtesy of Michael Mark, a Valley Cottage resident who wrote the theme song for the television show Entertainment Tonight and won a Drama Desk Award for his performance in the Broadway Musical I Love My Wife. Mark, a Nyack school board member who has sung at past county naturalization ceremonies, led the crowd in the song “Family Tree,” which features the chorus, “We’re a family and we’re a tree. Our roots go deep down in history. From my great great granddaddy reaching up to me, we’re a green and growing family tree.”
Mark taught the crowd how to perform this chorus in sign language and had them sign and sing along with him. He also led the audience in the traditional song “America the Beautiful” while everyone held hands like a giant family.
Several of the new citizens were in fact family members. This included the Minoza family — husband and wife Pascual and Zenaida and their son John Jay. They came to America from the Philippines in December 2005. For them, the naturalization process was hassle-free, and now they are happy to be in America where there are more opportunities.
“There’s a lot more channels [in America], a lot more ways to achieve success financially and as a person,” said John Jay Minoza. “There’s a lot more ways to go to improve yourself. There’s a lot more ways to actually achieve.”
But for other Rockland residents, like Pren and Vitore Krasniqi, becoming an American citizen was more arduous. The Krasniqis came to the United States from Kosovo in 1984 to escape the warfare and had been trying to become citizens for many years. They were initially unsuccessful in getting political asylum and were scammed by a lawyer who tried to take advantage of their situation. But now they are finally able to call themselves American citizens, and Pren could not be happier about it.
“God bless America, and God bless American people,” he said. “I love this country.”