More than 200 immigrants and their families squeezed under the galvanized roof of Centennial Center Park’s amphitheater Wednesday, for an hour-long ceremony officially recognizing them as U.S. citizens.
This was the largest naturalization ceremony in Colorado in the past 10 years, with more than 58 countries represented among the new citizens. The ceremony kicked off with the Pledge of Allegiance, then representatives from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Jason Crow’s offices passed along encouraging words. Kristi Goldinger, USCIS Denver District director, led the prospective citizens in the Oath of Citizenship.
“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…”
During the ceremony, Laura Doanes stood and enthusiastically waved a U.S. flag, as immigrants from Mexico took their turn be recognized. She was born in Mexico City and came to the United States 29 years ago. Doanes became a citizen to vote, she said, and the process has become less expensive and easier with online applications.
“It means the final piece of becoming a part of this country, to be completely a part of what I’ve worked for,” Doanes said.
The USCIS completed 11,500 applications this year, Goldinger said. With the approval rate hovering at about 90%, about 10,350 new citizens were approved in Colorado from Oct. 1, 2018 to September of 2019.
USCIS also had a backlog of 7,600 naturalization applications in Colorado as of March 31. A report by Colorado Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said the long waits could infringe on the rights of would-be citizens.
After the ceremony, Ahmed Nagi called his mother back in Cairo. Smiling widely, he said in Arabic: “It’s finished, I’m an American.” Nagi, 33, he moved to the U.S. from Egypt four years ago. Married to a U.S. citizen, he works for a technology company in Denver.
Nagi said he felt inspired by seeing another immigrant gain citizenship. I wanted that feeling, he said.
“I’m so excited, I just want to maybe run and dance,” he said.
The first thing Nagi said he is going to do is register to vote.
Another new citizen, Yasin Jimale, was born in Somalia in 1986 and was granted asylum five years ago. Jimale said he wanted to naturalize because he’s thankful for the life he now has in the U.S. and wants to stand up for this country. Now that he’s a citizen, Jimale said, he wants to help others do the same.
“I know people who are suffering right now, and who could better their lives by coming here and becoming part of the great country we are living in now,” he said.