By Chris Stone
From the balcony of Golden Hall, families and friends cheered 1,020 new U.S. citizens who took their oath of allegiance Wednesday. Outside, others awaited expectantly.
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The San Diego County Registrar of Voters Office had forms and clipboards ready at tables in the lobby of the Civic Center building downtown. More enthusiastically, volunteers from the Republican and Democratic parties saw their own golden opportunity.
A fresh group of newly naturalized Americans — from 75 nations.With midterm elections only months away, new citizens were urged to get their photos taken with the “First Family” and with the former First Family and, by the way, join their political parties.
At the red Republican tent were Lady Liberty, a woman in a red suit and mask as Donald Trump and Don Erwin as a convincing Uncle Sam — along with cardboard cutouts of President Trump and wife Melania.
On the opposite side of the sidewalk, county Democrats had clipboards along with cutouts of Barack and Michelle Obama in formal attire.
“There’s not much of a better place to register new voters,” said Kyle Doria, office administrator of the San Diego County Democratic Party. “People are very enthusiastic and often have a lot of questions.”
Calling the Democratic voter registration drive outside the monthly naturalization ceremony “one of our biggest efforts,” Doria said about 70 people registered at their blue tent.
“It’s important that new citizens have service right away, so they can participate in democracy,” Doria said in a phone interview.
County Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric said via email: “We are proud to have had a presence each month for more than six years straight. The ceremonies are an excellent opportunity to congratulate new citizens and invite them to join the Party of Freedom.”
Krvaric declined to say how many people registered at the GOP tent.
The registrar’s office had first shot as immigrants exited the lobby after picking up their naturalization certificates.
County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu on Thursday said 132 people registered at its table, including eight forms turned in by the League of Women Voters, allowed to set up indoors. Of that total, 110 decided to be mail voters, he said.
These days, many Californians prefer to register online or through the Department of Motor Vehicles, Vu said.
(Neither Vu nor a Sacramento spokesman for Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office could break down party affiliation of new-citizen voters.)
At the oath ceremony, Magistrate Judge Barbara Major spoke to the new citizens about their freedoms and responsibilities.
“You must strive to protect these rights and privileges, not only for yourself and your family, but for all citizens,” she said. “You should be a good friend and a good neighbor and work within the law to make your community a better place to live.”
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Major urged the seated crowd to take part in jury service, volunteer activities and other worthwhile public endeavors.
“You should become informed about public issues and exercise your right to vote,” she said.
Indeed, when asked after the ceremony about their American dreams and plans as citizens, some new citizens mentioned their desire to vote.
Alex Meline, 62, of the United Kingdom said she applied for citizenship last October after having a green card for years because “I needed to vote and participate in democracy.”
“I will participate in the next election,” Meline said before leaving to watch England lose to Croatia in soccer’s World Cup.
Voting was a motivation for Abelardo Rodriquez, 40, of Mexico as well.
His wife previously gained citizenship, he said, and now “I can participate in civic life. I can vote. I can make my voice heard.”
“There are too may changes in this country, and all people who have the opportunity to become citizens, should do it. It’s a very big opportunity to become a citizen,” Rodriquez said.
Dreams of other new citizens included becoming civil engineers, teachers, medical assistants, physicians and graphic designers.
Others talked about “enjoying freedom,” “living in safety and having a better life for my family” and “living in a democracy, where I have the ability to grow.”
Everyone talked about how joyful they were.
Philippines native Jez Marayag, a gunner’s mate in the U.S. Navy, received his citizenship after serving eight months.
Marayag, 25, of National City said he wanted have a stable life and learn radiology.
Two other service members — seated in a specially reserved area — were sworn in at Wednesday’s ceremony. (The citizenship-through-military-service recruitment program began under President George W. Bush.)
Rodriquez reacted to the anti-immigrant sentiment that he’s heard on television.
“It makes me feel sad because not all of the people coming from other countries are bad,” he said. “There are all types of people and we all have different dreams and expectations coming to this country. When we see the news about the separation of families, it makes me feel sad.”
Though some think immigrants are coming to steal U.S. jobs, Rodriquez said, “I think this country is really great and there are opportunities for everyone.”
He said he planned to continue working in the transportation field, get involved in civics and “have a really good life with my family.”
During the ceremony, Judge Major told the new citizens: “Many of you undoubtedly have come from countries where the freedoms we enjoy in the United States are not available…. I am confident that as a result, you will cherish your new freedoms all the more.”
Then she closed with advice that could be helpful to all citizens, new and old:
“I encourage you to be tolerant of others, to be just and fair in your dealings and to strive to make the United States an even better country than it is today.”
She urged them to learn about and teach their children the history and ideals “we as Americans live by” and share their cultural heritage and contribute to the melting pot “that is the American way of life.”
She concluded: “Please keep in mind always that this is your country now.”
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