‘No­body is go­ing to take this away’

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY RACHEL CHASON AND MARIA SACCHETTI

Karen Zacarías, a play­wright born in Mex­ico, fol­lowed last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and wished she could vote. Juliet Sanchez, a teacher born in Colom­bia, saw the protests that erupted af­ter the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Trump and wanted des­per­ately to join in.

On Friday, both women took the oath of cit­i­zen­ship at the Na­tional Ar­chives in the Dis­trict, vow­ing to use their new­found po­lit­i­cal rights as Amer­i­cans to op­pose a pres­i­dent who has made crack­ing down on im­mi­gra­tion a corner­stone of his ten­ure.

“No­body is go­ing to take this away from me,” said a beam­ing Sanchez, 37, her fa­ther’s arm wrapped around her shoul­ders. “This is an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity to be more vo­cal, to make more noise.”

In an ironic twist, she and the other 29 newly minted cit­i­zens who live in the Dis­trict were the first to see a new video with a wel­come mes­sage from Trump, who ex­horted them to em­brace the “full rights, and the sa­cred du­ties, that come with Amer­i­can cit­i­zen­ship.”

A recorded pres­i­den­tial mes­sage has been played for new cit­i­zens at nat­u­ral­iza­tion cer­e­monies since the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Ge­orge W. Bush. Pres­i­dents also typ­i­cally is­sue con­grat­u­la­tory let­ters. Crit­ics of Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies had spec­u­lated for months on when the pres­i­dent would de­but his own wel­come video and what his mes­sage would in­clude.

“No mat­ter where you come from or what faith you prac­tice, this coun­try is now your coun­try,” Trump says in the mes­sage. New cit­i­zens, he says, share “the obli­ga­tion” to teach Amer­i­can val­ues to other im­mi­grants and help them “as­sim­i­late to our way of life” — words that struck Sanchez as “dis­re­spect­ful” to the cul­tures of other coun­tries.

“We can and should re­spect, cel­e­brate and

em­brace our new cul­ture, but you shouldn’t tell us to as­sim­i­late,” Sanchez said.

Trump drew crit­i­cism last year on the cam­paign trail for say­ing that Mus­lims and other im­mi­grants were fail­ing to as­sim­i­late an Amer­i­can way of life.

He has thrown his sup­port be­hind the Raise Act, a Repub­li­can pro­posal in the Se­nate that would slash le­gal im­mi­gra­tion lev­els by half over a decade.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced Sept. 5 that it would end the Obama-era De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram, which has shielded from de­por­ta­tion nearly 700,000 un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants brought here as chil­dren. But the pres­i­dent in­di­cated this week that he would sup­port con­gres­sional ac­tion to keep DACA ben­e­fi­cia­ries in this coun­try — as long as any deal in­cludes in­creased bor­der se­cu­rity.

Zacarías, who came with her par­ents to the United States from Mex­ico as a child, ap­plied for cit­i­zen­ship in Jan­uary, de­ter­mined to vote in 2020 for a can­di­date with a dif­fer­ent agenda. Her voter-regis­tra­tion pa­per­work was in her purse Friday, she said, and she planned to mail it in as soon as pos­si­ble.

“I watched this pres­i­den­tial cam­paign un­fold, and I had so many opin­ions — but I didn’t have a voice,” said Zacarías, 48, who was joined at the cer­e­mony by her hus­band and two ac­tresses from her most re­cent play, “Na­tive Gar­dens,” which was set to open at Arena Stage on Friday night.

In the video, Trump sig­naled that the United States should be the only home for Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, even though im­mi­grants are al­lowed to main­tain dual cit­i­zen­ship if their coun­tries of ori­gin al­low it.

“Amer­ica is our home. We have no other,” Trump says. “You have pledged al­le­giance to Amer­ica. And when you give your love and loy­alty to Amer­ica, she re­turns her love and loy­alty to you.”

The cit­i­zens tak­ing the oath came from more than 20 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Mex­ico, Eritrea and Pak­istan. Not all were crit­i­cal of the pres­i­dent. Ya­couba Ou­at­tara, an engi­neer­ing stu­dent at the Univer­sity of the Dis­trict of Columbia, said he is not po­lit­i­cal and had not fol­lowed the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion closely. Ou­at­tara, 37, from Ivory Coast, said he liked Trump’s video mes­sage.

“If you want to be­come a cit­i­zen you have to re­spect the pres­i­dent,” he said.

Ed­tience Ten­brook, who was 3 years old when she fled civil war in Liberia with her mother, wore a bright-blue dress to the cer­e­mony. She chose it, she said, be­cause she thought it looked pa­tri­otic.

She has al­ways wanted to be­come a cit­i­zen but only be­came el­i­gi­ble in 2013, when she mar­ried her hus­band, who is an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen.

“It’s been a long jour­ney,” said Ten­brook, 34, who came to the United States with Tem­po­rary Pro­tected Sta­tus. “I fi­nally feel ac­cepted in the coun­try that I’ve al­ways called home.”

Act­ing home­land se­cu­rity sec­re­tary Elaine Duke gave the key­note ad­dress dur­ing the cer­e­mony, which kicked off a week of cit­i­zen­ship events na­tion­wide at which more than 30,000 green-card hold­ers will be­come cit­i­zens.

De­scrib­ing a “lack of civil dis­course on im­por­tant top­ics” in to­day’s so­ci­ety, Duke en­cour­aged those gath­ered at the ar­chives to ex­press their view­points con­struc­tively and en­gage in their com­mu­ni­ties.

“Vote in every sin­gle elec­tion,” she said. “Voice your ideas. Make your mark.”

PHO­TOS BY ASTRID RIECKEN FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

As the col­ors are pre­sented, 30 nat­u­ral­iza­tion can­di­dates be­come U.S. cit­i­zens Friday at the Na­tional Ar­chives. They were the first to see a new video with a wel­come mes­sage from Pres­i­dent Trump, who ex­horted them to em­brace the “full rights, and the sa­cred du­ties, that come with Amer­i­can cit­i­zen­ship.”

Newly minted U.S. cit­i­zen Michele Piercey, 44, right, who moved here from Canada, smiles while her friends Amy Hamil­ton, cen­ter, and Akemi Tin­der look at her cit­i­zen­ship cer­tifi­cate af­ter Friday’s cer­e­mony.

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