Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Oath and Reflection on the Chicago New Americans Initiative
Partnership Citizenship Coordinator Alaa Mukahhal reflects on passage of Chicago New Americsans Initiative Resolution.
June 6, 2012, was a day to be remembered in the history of Chicago for the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and the New Americans Initiative Program (NAI). Chicago bore witness to the passing of the Chicago New Americans Initiative Resolution in which Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel commended ICIRR and NAI for their efforts in promoting U.S. citizenship and volunteerism.
The Chicago New Americans Initiative is a comprehensive municipal effort that fights to assist eligible immigrants who want to become U.S. Citizens. This initiative is truly the first of its kind. Illustrating the city’s devotion to this initiative, the City Hall Chambers opened their doors to a naturalization ceremony of 27 people from 12 countries for the first time in 175 years. This emotional and historical event was witnessed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas, Chief Executive Office of ICIRR Lawrence Benito, Aldermen of Chicago, NAI partners, community leaders, friends, and family.
It was impossible to be in the room and not feel moved by the incredible resilience of immigrant perseverance. The ceremony began with a brief introduction by Lawrence Benito who is the son of two immigrants from the Philippines and self identifies as the “product of the American Dream.” The oath of allegiance that made citizens of those who were former legal permanent residents was led by Director Mayorkas. Mayorkas himself came to the United States as a refugee from Cuba at the age of six. The final speaker was Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was formerly President Obama’s Chief of Staff. He also happens to be the son of an immigrant from Israel.
Mayor Emanuel allowed himself to become vulnerable in the intimacy of the crowd and visibly choked up as he reflected aloud his family's history of American citizenship. He openly pondered upon how unfathomable his current status would have been if not for his grandfather who came to America alone from Moldavia in 1917 at the age of 13 to began life anew with relatives previously unknown to him. According to the Mayor, anything is possible! Who would have known that the grandson of a 13-year-old immigrant would one day grow up to become the Mayor of Chicago and welcome new citizens to America himself?
After New Americans recited the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time as citizens, a video with a message from President Obama was shown. Watching this video from the highest elected official in the nation welcoming new citizens made it difficult for everybody to not become overcome with the amount of potential that lay in that room and in their future generations to come. In America, it seems that nothing is impossible.
The Chicago New Americans Initiative will bring together the State of Illinois, the City of Chicago, and ICIRR in offering assistance to thousands of eligible, law abiding, permanent residents who have a dream of becoming naturalized, U.S. citizens.
The New Americans Initiative is a program that helps expand the possibilities and dreams of becoming an American through the collaboration and work of partner organizations. It is a program built upon unity! It is a program that continues to strive toward reaching for the hard to reach populations that need its help.
To mark the occasion, the Youth Leadership arm of Uniting America added to the event by inviting one of it’s partners, the Phoenix Military Academy, to perform color guard duties at the swearing in ceremony. This was done with the utmost care and precision. And there was a visible look of honor and undeniable feeling of admiration as the national anthem was sang by a young leader from the Southwest Organizing Project named Lucy Lopez. She was also invited by the Youth Leadership arm of Uniting America.
The celebration continued with a reception that recognized the work of Director Mayorkas on behalf of immigrants in the Unites States. Director Mayorkas met with NAI partners who work toward making his vision for the agency a reality. It was a warm atmosphere where people mingled freely as equals regardless of age, gender, or family origin. The room was a testament to the idea that America, the melting pot, can rise off the pages of history, leap from the recesses of our mind, and be lived harmoniously in the present day.
Tributes to Chicago New Americans Initiative:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel: “I am committed to making Chicago the most immigrant-friendly city in the world and with the Chicago New Americans Initiative we will ensure that every law-abiding Chicagoan has access to the resources they need to become productive members of society and contribute to our thriving global city.”
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (IL-04): “Immigrants have embraced Chicago and Chicago is embracing them right back. By helping immigrants become citizens and full participants in the life of our city and nation, we are strengthening the bonds that hold our community together. This effort, led by the Mayor, makes me all the more proud of Chicago's present and all the more hopeful for Chicago's future.”
Governor Pat Quinn: “Illinois’ strength is its diversity and a shared belief in hard work. We can welcome many more to our democracy by helping them earn their citizenship. These new Americans show that our state is a place where you can come for a brighter future.”
ICIRR CEO Lawrence Benito: "We are excited and look forward to the innovative and productive partnership with the City of Chicago, through which we hope to assist 10,000 new immigrants in the city become New Americans."