US Magistrate judge: You are America

More than 70 immigrants naturalized at Gerald R. Ford Museum

“Write the next great chapter in the history of this country.”

Hon. Ray Kent, US Magistrate Judge

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings

Grand Rapids, MI – On a beautiful chilly October morning people lined up in front of the Gerald R. Ford Museum on the banks of the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids.

But, most of them weren’t there to see the newest “In Step with Betty Ford, 100 Years” exhibit.

The future American citizens waiting for the naturalization ceremony came from all parts of the world from Burma, Bahrain, Singapore to Canada and everything in between.

New American citizen Ludek Pala. In the background US Magistrate Judge Hon. Ray Kent.

After registering and relinquishing their green cards, they took seats along with their guests and filled the auditorium. The tension of excitement was hanging in the air. The Color Guard practiced their routine to the clicking of their shiny black shoes marching around the auditorium.

Dressed up to the nines, the East Oakview 4th Grade Choristers sang “The Star-Spangled Banner. Then, the Magistrate Judge Hon. Ray Kent entered with other officials and stepped up on the sun lit stage.

“I do these ceremonies three to four times a year, and it is my favorite job,” Kent said. “This is my first time doing two ceremonies back to back.”

It was also the second day that the number of naturalized citizens from Burma beat Mexico.

“There must be upsets by Burma. Go Burma, the judge joked. “We have 73 candidates from 31 countries.”

As the judge named the countries, the candidates stood up. When Kent said Czech Republic, Ludek Pala of Lowell stood up. They took the oath for new citizens and all recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

Seventy-three people equaled 73 stories reflected in their languages, color of their skin and attire.

“You are America,” said Kent. “Ninety-nine percent of Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants.”

Among other famous naturalized Americans, Kent mentioned Henry Kissinger, the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who was born in Germany.

Kent also spoke about Albert Einstein as the smartest man who ever walked the earth and emigrated to the USA.

“You made the same decision like Einstein, you must be smart like him,” he said.

The numbers of naturalized Americans who made their imprint in science, technology and business were stunning. Among them are the owners of Google, AT&T and Yahoo.

The increase in population over the last 15 years can be attributed to naturalized Americans, according to Kent.

One out of four scientists are an immigrant, 31,000 have their own businesses, 76 percent of patents issued resulted from immigrants.

“You make America great,” Kent said. “We want you here.”

Kent spoke about a human chain formed by 80 strangers who saved Noah and Stephen from a rip current off the beach in Panama City.

“In that moment of need, they worked together to save other lives in the spirit of America,” he said. But, not everything is good.”

Kent also mentioned hatred in connection with the Charlottesville riots in Virginia in 1917.

“Do not hate, life is too short for that,” he said. “As Americans we’re all in this together, and when your turn comes to save Noah, join those hands. Each one of you has traveled your own road. You have different backgrounds. Hold onto your traditions.”

Kent encouraged the new citizens to practice their citizenship.

“Exercise those freedoms, they come with responsibilities,” he said. “You have the power to change this country. You exercise that power by going into that voting booth.

“If you see something wrong, say something.”

Since it was too late to register for the upcoming Nov.6 election, Pala plans on voting in future elections.

Each new citizen received a certificate of citizenship and a flag. There also was a photo opportunity with Kent, who joked that he will forego the $20 fee.

The ceremonies closed with “God Bless America” by the Choristers.

The judge’s last words to the new American citizens kept ringing in my ears:

“Write the next great chapter in the history of this country.”

In an era of detention of illegal immigrants and conversion of correctional facilities into detention facilities, the importance of citizenship cannot be understated.



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