53 immigrants from 26 countries become U.S. citizens at Northampton celebration

  • A crowd gathers to watch as 53 immigrants receive their citizenship certificates on the lawn of the Hampshire County Courthouse on Thursday, July 4, 2019. DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

  • Local vocalist Evelyn Harris sings on the lawn of the Hampshire County Courthouse at a naturalization ceremony for 53 new citizens, with Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz watching on Thursday, July 4, 2019. BROOKE HAUSER

Staff Writer
Published: 7/4/2019 2:11:15 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Jampa Abele of Tibet was all smiles as he walked through a crowd of people applauding to receive his certificate of citizenship.

“I feel safe” is how he described his emotions after the event.

Abele is one of 53 immigrants who officially became American citizens beneath the large shade trees on the Hampshire County Courthouse lawn late Thursday morning. The naturalization ceremony, now in its 11th year, is organized by the Center for New Americans in partnership with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

This year’s swearing-in was witnessed by a larger-than-usual crowd that applauded and cheered throughout the program. U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson, who presided over the ceremony, said it seemed that “half of western Massachusetts” had come.

“Being here at this ceremony is the best way I know of to support the Fourth of July,” Robertson told those gathered. “And we know it’s not easy to get to this point.”

The immigrants who became citizens on Thursday hail from 26 different countries, from Albania to Vietnam.

“I feel so great right now,” said Mohamed Ben Slama, 31, of Tunisia. “It was a really really good day.”

The hour-long event featured patriotic songs sung by celebrated local vocalist Evelyn Harris and speeches by several public figures, including Mayor David Narkewicz, who implored the new citizens to register to vote immediately after the ceremony.

“We need your voices,” he said. “We need your voices.”

Laurie Millman, the executive director of the Center for New Americans, said the day was a celebration of the Declaration of Independence and its values.

“We are all created equal — we have rights that cannot be taken away,” she said, drawing loud applause for her next thought: “It is the job of the government to protect those rights; it’s the job of ‘we the people’ to ensure that the government protects those rights.”

There was no mention during the ceremony of the current political climate in the country — immigrants held in overcrowded and unsanitary camps at the border, children separated from their parents. But those facts weighed on some in the crowd.

“I felt the spirit was one of protest,” said Yamila Irizarry-Gerould, who was one of those in attendance on Thursday. She said she teared up when she heard the new citizens’ 26 countries of origin read aloud to the audience. “This makes us American.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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