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Judge: America gets 'stronger' as immigrants become citizens

Judge: America gets 'stronger' as immigrants become citizens

April 23rd, 2019 by Joe Gamm in News

Tricia Heisler holds up her right hand and repeats the Oath of Citizenship during a naturalization ceremony Monday in the auditorium at Missouri National Guard Headquarters. Heisler, originally from Newfoundland, Canada, and moved to Jefferson City with her now-retired husband, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Andrew Heisler.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

There were really only five rules that mattered for 83 applicants for U.S. citizenship who recited their Oaths of Allegiance late Monday morning, said Magistrate Judge Willie Epps Jr., of the Western District of Missouri.

The new citizens merely needed to learn Epps' five personal rules for conducting ceremonies like that done in the Missouri National Guard Klefner Building in Jefferson City.

The first rule: relax.

About 300 people found themselves packed into the standing-room-only auditorium in the building, which for Monday was officially a courtroom.

"This is going to be easy and fun," Epps encouraged the participants, their families and their friends.

Second — he said as bored, disinterested children wailed in the audience: "Kids are awesome. I've got a 3-year-old. About this time, she'd be making a lot of noise. So don't worry about your little ones."

If they want to make noise, cry or squirm, that's all right.

"Even if they do it during my remarks — I'm used to it," Epps said. "Lawyers do it all the time in my court."

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Third: Photos are great. Epps only asked that people not move around while the oath was being administered.

Fourth: Epps said he loves taking photos with the new citizens.

"I warn you, if you don't want your photo taken with me, it's OK," he added.

The new citizens would already have been sworn in at the end of the ceremony, and he can't take the citizenship back.

Lastly, taking a photo with the judge is traditional, but to get a photo with the judge, Epps wanted the new citizens to promise they would register to vote afterward.

The 83 newly naturalized citizens hailed from 43 different countries.

Before they took their oaths, Immigration Services Officer John King called out the names of each of the applicants.

"Upon taking the Oath of Allegiance, each will have the rights, the privileges and the responsibilities of U.S. citizenship," King said.

As he called their names, they stood and stated which country they had immigrated from — Burma, South Korea, Scotland, Cuba, Nigeria, Canada, Mexico, Columbia, Jamaica, Italy, India, Ghana, Kenya and more.

"To my fellow Americans," Epps said to applause, "to our newest American citizens, this country just became a better place to live in."

Those new citizens came to the United States with hopes and dreams as diverse as the paths they took to arrive here, he said.

"Hopes for economic and professional possibilities. Dreams for a better life for your children," he said. "We look to you with gratitude. We're so glad you're here. In joining us, you sustain one of the richest traditions of the nation, which is to be a nation of immigrants."

To say that immigrants have been a core of American heritage would be a great understatement, Epps said. Immigrants have built roads, bridges, businesses and the society of the U.S. Immigrants' ingenuity continues to drive society, he said.

"From the military to civilian government, from academia to the arts," he said. "In every sector of every industry, we are stronger because of the diversity and talent of Americans with immigrant roots."

Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin, whose family immigrated from Greece, told the gathering she was honored to be with them all. The emotion in her eyes was real — stemming from discussions she had with her mother, who immigrated and went through a naturalization ceremony in 1976, during the U.S. Bicentennial.

"She talked to me about how lucky she felt to have two places to call home," Tergin said. "She talked about how this just made it complete for her to be a member of this country."

And the ceremony just made America her home.

Tricia Heisler, a Jefferson City resident who immigrated from Canada, said that as the wife of a now retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant, she's been in the country for years. Her husband was stationed in New Jersey for a while, then moved on to Missouri.

They have two children, both born in the U.S.

"We wanted to make it official," Heisler said. "Mainly for the kids. They are used to growing up here."

Some of the new citizens had to wait and worked hard for years to achieve their goal of becoming citizens, Epps told listeners.

"In doing so, you have learned that ours is a nation that upholds liberty and equality for all, that defends freedoms of religion, press and assembly, and strives against prejudice," he said. "You know this is not easy. You know how rough and tumble our political discourse can be.

"But, because you're here, you're going to make this a stronger country for all of us."

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