America grows by 49
Allentown judge administers citizenship oath to immigrants from 21 countries
That venerable American formula, e pluribus unum — out of many, one — came to vivid life Wednesday in the courtroom of Lehigh County Judge Edward Reibman. He administered the oath of citizenship to 49 men and women, who forswore allegiance to foreign princes and potentates, cheered, cried and headed back into
the late afternoon sun with hand-held flags and Liberty Bell pins as tokens of the day.
Egypt. Mexico. Colombia. Kazakhstan. The Philippines. India. South Korea. Syria. In all, these newest Americans came from 21 countries. That included Canada, which remains a foreign country despite the American tendency to think of it as the pleasant neighbor upstairs.
“The children are American citizens and it was time for mom to be one as well,” said Susan Gall, a native of Hamilton, Ontario, who married her American husband, Mark, 11 years ago. They own a farm in Washington Township and are raising a daughter, Willow, and two sons, Xavier and Ulysses.
The children played Simon Says and other games in the courthouse lobby as
their mother went through some preceremonial double-checking of names and numbers on the reams of paperwork foundational to the citizenship process and surrendered her Lawful Permanent Resident Card — better known as a green card.
Last year, more than 756,000 people were naturalized as U.S. citizens. The process takes time — five years of legal residency, to begin with — and demands a grasp of the English language and of American history.
“I remember we would hear about America, the land of opportunity,” said Alyssa Sultana Harmony, holding her 2-monthold son, Carter, and reflecting on her early life in Trinidad and Tobago.
Her parents left that Caribbean republic when Harmony was 8. They came to Miami, then north to the Poconos, where her father found work.
“You get here and it’s the biggest struggle,” said Harmony, 27. “It’s worth it.”
Seven Scouts from Girl Scout Troop 63403 in Whitehall presented the flags to begin the ceremony. Reibman greeted the petitioners by noting their diversity — in facial features, skin tone, forms of dress. He surmised most would have distinctive accents and stories to tell about the countries they left or, in some cases, fled.
“It’s very interesting that with all those differences we have, we’re all together here for a common purpose,” he said. “Differences historically have made this country better. It’s up to you to embrace this country and make it better.”
He told them to participate in civic life, register to vote and pay their taxes — “Taxes, by the way, pay my salary,” he quipped — and urged them to think about ways to improve the country.
“All four of my grandparents were immigrants,” he told them. “None had a formal education, but the opportunities were here. And now their grandson sits as a judge, swearing in new citizens. To me, that’s what this country’s about. Freedom and opportunity.”
After the oath had been taken and the certificates and other memorabilia presented, Luis Enrique Justo Vasquez stood outside the courtroom, beaming. He had come to Allentown from the Dominican Republic at age 11 with his father, Jose, and brothers, then waited two lonely years until his mother, Anna, was able to join them.
His parents couldn’t be at the ceremony. Both had to work. But Vasquez had a sizeable cheering section. The man taking his photo with a long-lens camera turned out to be his boss, Lee Butz, whose construction company has built a great deal of Allentown.
“He’s the star of the place,” said Butz, who hired Vasquez to the security department.
Vasquez’s broad smile grew even broader. He mused on the meaning of citizenship, and summed it up in a life lesson imparted a long time ago.
“My grandfather taught us to make other people’s lives better,” he said. “That’s what I want to do.”
Morning Call reporter Daniel Patrick Sheehan can be reached at 610-820-6598 or dshee[email protected]
Hwasung Im, left, of Breinigville, takes a selfie with her son Mark Im, 6, on Wednesday during a naturalization ceremony at the Lehigh County Courthouse in Allentown. More than 40 individuals became U.S. citizens.
Sandra Kabiru, left, originally from Nigeria, smiles as she receives a certificate from Judge Edward Reibman on Wednesday during a naturalization ceremony at the Lehigh County Courthouse in Allentown.
Alyssa Harmony, of Allentown and originally from Trinidad and Tobago, holds her 2-month-old baby Carter while taking the oath.
Susan Gall, from Hamilton, Ontario, left, smiles as she receives her certificate of achievement from Altagracia Mercado, urban affairs liaison for state Sen. Pat Browne’s office.
A newly naturalized American citizen holds an American flag.