Independence Day Citizenships

Independence Day

Every year, on the 4th of July—Independence Day for Americans—the United States welcomes thousands of new citizens. 4th of July naturalizations are an American tradition. 2011 was a banner year for naturalizations. On or near July 4th, 24,000 individuals were given citizenship at 350 locations, many of which were in foreign countries. In 2010, 3,800 new citizens were welcomed to the U.S. at 55 locations at special Independence Day celebrations. This year, 8 of these 350 naturalization ceremonies were specifically for armed forces service members and their spouses. One of these was aboard the USS Midway docked in San Diego harbor and where over 200 members of the U.S. military were naturalized.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has committed to bringing citizenship to members of the military regardless of their geographical location. As a result, naturalization ceremonies were held in Baghdad, Iraq, Kabul, Afghanistan, and Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Within U.S. borders, ceremonies were held in many historic locations such as Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta, McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, the USS Constitution in Charlestown, Massachusetts., George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens in Mount Vernon, Virginia., and SeaWorld theme park in Orlando, Florida.

Naturalization ceremonies are often a special and emotional event for new citizens, many of which are counted as some of the most patriotic Americans. USCIS director Alejandro Mayorkas said of the special 4th of July ceremonies, “Every Fourth of July, we celebrate our country’s spirit of independence. This spirit, and our founding ideals of freedom and democracy, have allowed us to achieve great success as a nation of immigrants. Immigrants come to America in search of opportunity and, by taking the Oath of Allegiance, embrace the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship.” Mayorkas continued, saying, “Today let us celebrate our newest Americans who, in taking the Oath of Allegiance and becoming United States citizens, will truly cherish this right, and will renew our highest aspirations to be the best that we can be as a nation of immigrants.” These rights and responsibilities include the ability to vote in federal and state elections, the right to apply for federal jobs, a right to a U.S. passport which enables new citizens to travel abroad for as long as they wish without fear of being denied re-entry and allow them to ask for assistance if needed at a U.S. embassy or consulate, and many more.

Many immigrants are deterred from applying for citizenship—for a variety of reasons. Some cannot afford the $680 application fee, some can’t find the time, and some are not proficient enough in English. Only 64 percent of eligible immigrants eventually naturalize and though most are eligible after 5 years of holding a green card, it takes an average of 9 years for eligible immigrants to finally apply. Consequently, many of these naturalizations represent a culmination of hard work, financial, and temporal sacrifice. Many immigrants must take classes to improve their English and need tutoring to pass the U.S. history and civics test. The 4th of July is a perfect time to honor their commitment and hard work.