When Mauricio Badillo was finally sworn in as an American citizen after more than a decade living in the United States, he felt a mix of emotions.
“Excited. Happy.” He smiled, exchanging a look with his wife, Lupita. “Relieved.”
A resident of the country since 2008, the Vancouver-based husband, father and painting company employee had been actively working toward his citizenship for eight months.
On Thursday, he joined 38 other immigrants who were bringing that process to a close in a naturalization ceremony hosted by the Vancouver Community Library and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Portland.
“We are so pleased to have all of you here and so proud to host today’s naturalization ceremony,” said Vancouver Community Library Branch Manager Kelly Lamm, kicking off the ceremony in a packed room. “The public library is a great equalizer. All are welcome here.”
One by one, immigrants stood to accept their certificate of citizenship. They hailed from 21 countries and four continents, from Mexico to Moldova to Canada to China.
Led by Jalal Faks, Portland acting field office director of USCIS, they together recited the oath of allegiance and checked the last box on the road to citizenship: “I hereby declare on oath that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty of both or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen,” the crowd recited.
They pledged their new allegiance to the U.S., promising to serve the country in a military or civilian capacity as required by law.
“I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, so help me God.”
“Congratulations to all of you. You just became United States citizens,” he said, to a round of applause from the immigrants and their families.
According to Tak Kendrick, communications and marketing director for Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries, this was the first time the Vancouver Community Library had hosted a naturalization event in two years. But the ceremonies are common in Portland, where USCIS formalizes between 30 and 50 immigrants in similar events three times a week, Faks said.
However, Vancouver is a touchstone for many immigrants looking to gain citizenship in the greater Portland metro area. At the Vancouver library, would-be citizens can access a free 10-week course led by volunteer teacher Karen Hengerer that will help guide them through the citizenship process.
The course covers the nuts and bolts of the process — the many stacks of paperwork and rolls of red tape — along with the civics and history lessons any new immigrant will need to know in order to pass their citizenship exam. Students learn about the Bill of Rights, checks and balances in the government, and fundamental U.S. history.
The course is taught in English, as understanding of the language is a requirement for citizenship.
“I always get emotional at these services,” said Hengerer, who has been teaching the class for the last two years. “I have always been in awe of people that are willing to move to a new country, learn a new language, and more importantly figure out how things really work. … I am even more in awe of what you’ve accomplished, because I’ve seen it.”
She ticked down the list of tasks that might feel like minor speed bumps in a native country, but become a huge obstacle when starting over in a new place.
“You figured out where to live, after you figured how to get through one of our ports of entry even before you had a home. You may have found schools for your children, you’ve helped with homework while both you and your children learned a new language. Or you may have had those children born here after you arrived in a strange hospital — what an adventure that must have been. You’ve supported yourself, you’ve paid taxes, Social Security and Medicare out of your paychecks. You found a grocery store,” Hengerer said.
“You’ve already contributed to your community and our nation by bringing us all of that energy, all of that drive, and hopefully we have listened when you have given us a different and important perspective that comes from your unique wisdom.”