Last week I was invited by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to be the main speaker at a citizenship naturalization ceremony at the Beale Library where 107 local residents were to be sworn in as brand-new U.S. citizens.
What an honor. It was held March 2, on Dr. Seuss Day.
What would I tell them, I wondered? The truth is always best.
Just last month the national director of USCIS, L. Francis Cissna, appointed to the position by Donald Trump, issued a memo to employees stating its mission statement had been revised. He deleted a phrase that has come to define the United States before the world.
The words "America's promise as a nation of immigrants" were tossed out, vanished and banished.
Its original mission statement said: "USCIS secures America's promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigrants and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system."
The new sanitized version reads: "USCIS administers the nation's lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immgration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland and honoring our values."
I'm probably just reading too much into this. But the current occupant of the White House got elected to a large extent on his xenophobic, anti-immgrant rhetoric that now goes beyond just words. His attempts to ban immigration from seven Muslim nations, eliminate DACA and let loose ICE agents in Kern County and beyond makes it tough to concede it's just a coincidence that USCIS declares we are no longer a nation of immigrants.
Trump has made it clear he wants nothing to do with immigrants from "shithole countries" (his words). I suggest Trump read "A Nation of Immigrants," written nearly 60 years ago by John F. Kennedy. The book is as relevant today as it was in Kennedy's day.
"A nation of immigrants" has been part of the American lexicon for centuries, mostly, I'd say, because it's the truth. It ranks right up there with "Liberty and justice for all," "All men are created equal," and "Land of the free, home of the brave." (That last one always makes me want to shout "Play ball!" every time I hear it.)
I shared with my captive audience my own experience as a fellow immigrant who also was naturalized years ago. It's a win-win situation.
As a U.S. citizen, you can partake in the single most important right citizens have, the right to vote. The power to elect your choice for city council, the school board, governor. For president of the United States. At the same time, America is enriched by immigrants eager to participate in their newly found power of the vote.
And you do not have to give up your history, culture and language.
The naturalization ceremony was moving, especially when the newly minted citizens stood and recited the oath of citizenship. For some, this was their goal, the achievement which they had worked so hard for.
"We love Yemen, but I want my family to live in America," said Fahed Alsakih, as he and his two small children were sworn in.
These new citizens ranged from children to the elderly and there were plenty of smiles all around. They came from various countries — Burma, Egypt, El Salvador, India, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Yemen and of course, with the greatest number, Mexico. They now call the United States their home.
The experience reinforced that we are indeed a nation of immigrants, no matter what others might want us to believe.
Contributing columnist Jose Gaspar is a news anchor/reporter for Telemundo Bakersfield and KGET. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.