WEST CHESTER — Five Chester County Common Pleas judges on Friday watched and listened as 61 people who came to the United States from 24 foreign nations recited an oath of 140 words that made them, ceremoniously, officially, part of “one nation … indivisible.”
“Congratulations,” said county Prothonotary Matt Holliday, who administered the Oath of Citizenship to those who were participating in the county’s semi-annual naturalization ceremonies. “You are now citizens of the United States.”
The event, held in the county’s stately Courtroom One of its Justice Center, was the last leg of a physical and figurative journey for each of those taking the oath. Not only had they traveled miles and miles under perhaps arduous conditions, but they had also made the momentous decision to embrace an adopted country over their native land.
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance to fidelity” to the nations they came from and the leaders they left behind, they repeated after Holliday in taking the oath of citizenship. “I will bear true faith and allegiance to … the United States.”
Those who participated had gone through the process of obtaining new citizenship, which includes a civics test and a personal interview for those who have lived in the country for at least five years. Once citizens, they can vote in local and national elections, travel the world with a U.S. passport, and happily, call themselves an American.
Naturalization ceremonies are held at courthouses across the country, and three times a year in Chester County. They are sponsored by the Chester County Bar Association, overseen by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and supervised by the county’s judges.
“In Chester County, we welcome all citizens, no matter what path they take,” said county Commissioner Terence Farrell, one of a number of county elected officials who attended the event.
U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th, of Easttown reminded those becoming citizens of the opportunities that await them. She said her father had come to the country as a child from Poland, fleeing the Holocaust of World War II to settle here with his family. “He was welcomed here and now, I stand before you as an elected official,” she said.
There was pomp in the filled-to-the brim courtroom, with lots of red, white, and blue on display. There were patriotic songs sung by the members of the Chester County Choral Society, and a group singing of the National Anthem. The names read by the immigration official included Nguyen, Wilson, Barakat, and Jose, and the children in the audience held aloft red carnations and waited to take home their “Pledge of Allegiance Coloring Books.”
It was left, however, to one who had come before them to put the moment in perspective and explain the joy they can now share in.
Maria “Cora” Sarmiento, a deputy clerk in the county Clerk of Courts Office, told those assembled how she had taken her own citizenship oath a year ago in the same courtroom they occupied. She spoke of the “hard earned citizenship” she had accomplished, the fear and agony of waiting, and the pride and sense of belonging she felt voting for the first time.
But she recalled traveling back to her former home in the Philippines and then returning to Philadelphia this past May. ”An immigration officer looked through my passport, then looked at me and with a smile, he said, ‘Welcome home.’"
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.