Fifty-four become citizens at Northampton courthouse ceremony

  • U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson, center, presents naturalization certificates to new citizens at Monday’s ceremony on the Hampshire County courthouse lawn as Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, left foreground, observes and applauds. GAZETTE STAFF / BRIAN STEELE

  • Fifty-four immigrants took the oath of U.S. citizenship in a naturalization ceremony on Sunday, July 4, 2022, on the grounds of the Hampshire County courthouse in Northampton. Pictured, Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra delivers remarks at the annual ceremony hosted by the Center for New Americans and U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services. Gazette staff / Brian Steele

  • Fifty-four immigrants took the oath of U.S. citizenship in a naturalization ceremony on Sunday, July 4, 2022, on the grounds of the Hampshire County courthouse in Northampton. U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson presented naturalization certificates to each new citizen during the annual ceremony hosted by the Center for New Americans and U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services. Gazette staff / Brian Steele

  • Aurelio Silva and U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson talk Monday on the grounds of the Hampshire County courthouse in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/BRIAN STEELE

  • Fifty-four immigrants took the oath of U.S. citizenship in a naturalization ceremony on Sunday, July 4, 2022, on the grounds of the Hampshire County courthouse in Northampton. U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson presented naturalization certificates and approved more than 20 name changes during the annual ceremony hosted by the Center for New Americans and U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services. Gazette staff / Brian Steele

Staff Writer
Published: 7/4/2022 7:35:18 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Fifty-four immigrants from across Massachusetts became American citizens during a Fourth of July ceremony in the city, fulfilling a dream that some had carried with them since childhood.

Monday’s 14th annual ceremony on the grounds of the Hampshire County Courthouse, organized by the immigrant resource organization Center for New Americans and U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), drew a sizable crowd of the new citizens’ loved ones, as well as local and state elected officials.

A sea of chairs filled quickly and dozens of people remained standing.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson presented each new American with a naturalization certificate after they took a collective oath of citizenship. Broadcast live by the Springfield Technical Community College radio station WTCC, the event doubled as a formal court session in which Robertson approved requested name changes for more than 20 people.

“We truly welcome you. We need you as new citizens,” Robertson said. “You belong here. We want you here. The diversity in your group represents the strength in America.”

Center for New Americans executive director Laurie Millman said the country needs the “enthusiasm” that the new citizens bring.

“We don’t always achieve our ideals, but we always keep trying. Democracy is hard work,” Millman said. “We don’t need to tell you about hard work. You would not be here today if you had not worked hard to learn U.S. history and government, to pay the citizenship application fee, to travel to your interview and pass the exam.”

Trip to Disney World

Aurelio Silva is a U.S. Army reservist whose mother brought him and his sister to the U.S. from Brazil in 2000, when he was 12.

“We didn’t know any better; we thought America was a trip to Disney World every other weekend, so we were excited to come,” Silva said. “It’s been quite a long journey to get to this day today. We’ve gone through ups and downs.”

In 2013, he said, he received his work authorization under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy and spent several years managing restaurants in the Worcester area.

In January 2020, mere weeks before COVID-19 forced major changes in American social and professional life around the world, Silva decided to serve his country in the armed forces. He left for basic training about six months later, when the restaurant industry had begun to tank, and trained to become a licensed practical nurse in the Army Reserves.

“When the time came, I said, you know what? I’ve got no commitments, let me go ahead and enlist and see what it’s all about,” Silva said. “I’ve actually started working as a nurse at a local nursing home where I live.”

He described his military service career as “fun” and credited the military for sponsoring his citizenship application. After posing for a picture with Robertson, Silva joined other new citizens in registering to vote with the assistance of the League of Women Voters, Northampton Chapter.

‘Stunning’ diversity

“This represents a chance at a new life that is not available in their country of origin. It’s actually stunning how many countries are represented,” Millman said after the ceremony, including Albania, Chile, Ghana, Nicaragua, Russia, Ukraine and Venezuela. “People have no idea how diverse this area is.”

Some in the group came to the U.S. with their minor children, who will also become citizens automatically under federal law.

At last year’s ceremony, only 20 people were naturalized due to pandemic-related restrictions on public gatherings and the fact that USCIS began offering same-day naturalization, without guests, after citizenship interviews.

“I would estimate the crowd at about 400” this year, Millman said, and some were uninvolved Northamptonites who just wanted to observe. “We had 200 chairs and they were gone immediately. People have started bringing their own chairs, and that’s smart.”

Vocal artist Evelyn Harris sang the national anthem and other patriotic songs, as she has in years past. She earned a round of applause in the middle of her performance of “My Country ’Tis of Thee” when she changed one of the lyrics to say, “Land of the natives’ pride,” rather than referring to the pilgrims.

Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra said she has looked forward to the chance to address the Independence Day naturalization ceremony ever since her election last November, describing it as “an honor that I have been in awe of” and “one of my favorite annual events” in the city.

“I believe deeply that this country’s greatest strength comes from being a nation of immigrants,” Sciarra said, referencing her own father’s journey through Ellis Island after immigrating from Italy with his family at the age of 2.

“Your belief in our democracy gives me needed hope, and that you have worked so hard to be here … inspires me to work as hard as I can to protect and expand the rights that you strove to earn.”

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

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