20 new Americans cross coveted threshold in Northampton celebration

  • Adonys Abrea gets his naturalization certificate from U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson during the naturalization ceremony on Friday. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine A. Robertson during the naturalization ceremony on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson with Jennifer Bautista in the background during the naturalization ceremony on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dominique Joseph talks about becoming a citizen at the end of the naturalization ceremony on Friday.

  • Adonys Abrea, left, Hussein Mohamod and Jennifer Bautista are sworn in by Garrin Schlink, Immigration Services Assistant for the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.

  • Efrain Estrada and his father, Brandon Estrada, watch in the rain as Jennifer Bautista, Efrain’s mother, gets sworn in during the naturalization ceremony. “We are here supporting mom,” Brandon said, “I’ll be next.”

  • Left, Adonys Abrea, and Hussein Mohamod, being sworn in during the naturalization ceremony on Friday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jude Fernandu gets his naturalization certificate from U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson during the naturalization ceremony Friday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jennifer Bautista gets her naturalization certificate from U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine A. Robertson during the naturalization ceremony on Friday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/3/2021 7:00:40 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Twenty people from 16 countries came together Friday for the payoff of years of hard work, becoming U.S. citizens as their new countrymen cheered them on.

Wind-blown rain soaked the roughly 50 attendees and elected officials who gathered under a tent on the Hampshire County Courthouse lawn, but not even the inhospitable weather could dampen the moods of the new citizens and their loved ones.

After U.S. District Court Deputy Clerk Maurice Lindsay administered the oath of citizenship, cheers and applause erupted, and when each new citizen received their certificate of naturalization, family members posed for pictures together in the narrow aisles.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Robinson presided over the city’s 13th annual naturalization ceremony, which was organized by the Center for New Americans, an English language school and immigration resource center in Northampton; and U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS).

The Northampton chapter of the League of Women Voters helped register the new citizens to vote. Local vocalist Evelyn Harris sang patriotic songs, including “America the Beautiful” and the national anthem.

Ricky Sierra, 31, of Southbridge, began his journey to citizenship four years ago. He moved from the Dominican Republic to be with his partner Oscar Sierra. In the Dominican Republic, same-sex relationships are not recognized by the law, but the couple was able to get married in the U.S.

“I came to the United States because my husband lives here,” Sierra said. “I love this country. I love the people in the United States. The U.S.A. has beautiful places and I am so happy.”

Oscar Sierra said the naturalization process was “not really complicated at all,” then with a hearty laugh, he added, “but it did take a lot of money.”

After COVID-19 lockdowns and social gathering restrictions went into effect last year, USCIS started offering same-day naturalizations following in-person citizenship interviews. Guests were not allowed.

“Something is lost by doing these ceremonies in the office. There’s no emotion, there’s no witness,” said Laurie Millman, executive director of the Center for New Americans. “This ceremony makes visible a journey that most people have no idea about.”

Mayor David Narkewicz congratulated the new citizens and said that presiding over the annual ceremony is one of the highlights of his job. Narkewicz, who is not seeking reelection in November, called the ceremony “special.”

“Thank you for investing in yourself to become a citizen of this country,” Narkewicz said. “Get involved in your local communities. Run for office. Serve on a board. Continue to improve the community that you live in.”

Dominique Joseph, 45, of Worcester, came to the U.S. nine years ago from Haiti.

“I came here for a lot of things. For community. It’s a good country. People respect people and the country respects law,” Joseph said. He said he is excited to be able to vote in any U.S. election, and that “maybe” he will run for office one day.

The event was smaller than it has been in the past due to pandemic guidelines.

The ceremony was to be moved inside the courthouse in case of rain, which would have limited attendance to the new citizens and the staff conducting the ceremony. Although there was inclement weather on Friday, the tented ceremony got underway just minutes after the rain started.

Millman said organizers wanted to do whatever it took to share the event with the public.

“Very possibly, family members and (the media) would not have been allowed inside,” Millman said. “It’s very moving, and it’s not something that most native-born Americans have seen.”

Brandon Estrada stood under an umbrella with his young son Efrain. Together, they watched Efrain’s mother, Jennifer Bautista, become a U.S. citizen.

“We are here supporting mom,” Estrada said. “I’ll be next.”

Under federal law, children with green cards who are under 18 when their parent becomes a U.S. citizen also receive citizenship automatically.

The new citizens’ former countries of nationality include Belgium, Egypt, Guatemala, Iraq, Jamaica, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Uruguay and Vietnam, among others.

“These are people who have given up a lot because becoming a U.S. citizen is a goal,” Millman said. “These people have studied long and hard for something that we take for granted.”

Twelve of the new citizens requested name changes as part of the naturalization process, and Judge Robertson approved those requests Friday.

“This country would not be what it is without people like you, people who have chosen to live here,” Robertson said. “Congratulations. I just couldn’t mean that more.”

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.


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