Naturalization ceremony a solemn gateway to citizenship

“We the people” are three words we should all know. You’ve surely heard of them before, and, therefore, should be familiar with the concept of self-government, where the true power rests in the hands of the governed and the will of the many.

Many of us would likely be able to identify those three words as the first of our country’s most respected document, the foundation of essentially all of our subsequent laws and regulations, the U.S. Constitution. But how many of us know how many amendments have been added to that document? How many of us would be able to correctly name the number of voting members in the U.S. House of Representatives, or how many years a representative is elected to serve during each of her or his term?

If that’s not tricky enough, how about this one: Name one of the writers of the Federalist Papers, which were drafted to support adoption of the Constitution.

Were you able to answer those? If not, you might have some difficulty passing the civics portion of the test foreigners must take when seeking citizenship here in the United States.

Each year, dozens of people go through the naturalization process and take the U.S. Oath of Allegiance here at the federal courthouse in Marquette. They “renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty” and proclaim their loyalty to the Stars and Stripes, and pledge to “defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic …”

These words, for many who say them, carry great weight and meaning. Some people who have recited the oath are escaping poverty, discrimination and bigotry, dictators and monarchs, or terrorism and fear. Others are just looking for opportunity.

We welcomed 17 new citizens from 15 countries Thursday during a naturalization ceremony at the courthouse building along Washington Street in Marquette.

There are almost always proud smiles and feelings of accomplishment in the courtroom during these events, and Thursday’s was no exception.

One of the new citizens, Dr. Latika Gupta, originally of India and now an assistant professor of economics at Michigan Tech University, said she loves the freedoms she has as a woman in the U.S.

“I can wear whatever I want, I can choose whatever profession I want, I can read whatever book I want, I can watch whatever movie I want,” she said.

That freedom is probably something many of us as natural-born U.S. citizens have taken for granted at one time or another in our lives. It’s something, though, that should be neither neglected nor withheld, but willfully shared with others.

Having a basic understanding of our country’s history and laws help keep our American traditions and culture alive, hence the civics testing for new citizens. By the way, if you haven’t already figured out the answers, the Federalist Papers were written under the pen name Publius by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. There are 27 amendments to the Constitution, and 435 voting members in the House. Those representatives serve two-year terms.

Judge R. Allan Edgar presided over the naturalization ceremony Thursday, and had insightful remarks that were included in our coverage of the event.

“These days, we hear a lot about immigration, but we do not always hear about how important immigration is in this country,” he said to the new citizens. “We welcome you because we have constantly been enriched by immigrants which have provided us with new energy and ideas.”

America has always been a melting pot of different people, cultures, faiths and creeds. While that might make things more complicated and strained at times, it’s what keeps the U.S. progressing toward a brighter future.

These new citizens should remind us of that.