“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (“The New Colossus,” Emma Lazarus)
These are the words posted alongside the famed Statue of Liberty. For more than a century, they have greeted visitors, refugees and every other individual that has come to our shores. They are a sign of freedom. A mark of acceptance. And a poignant reminder of our country’s history. You see, we have always been a nation of immigrants. A place made stronger by our diversity. We are a melting pot of races, ethnicities, religions and creeds. We are a country that welcomes people of all backgrounds – and that’s something we can be proud of.
Leaders from OneMacomb and Macomb County recently espoused these sentiments during a naturalization ceremony held on Friday, November 2 for 24 individuals from 16* different countries. These ceremonies, which see immigrants become U.S. citizens by taking the Oath of Allegiance, are the culmination of a four to six year process. They are an emotional and meaningful event for all involved.
“It’s been a long journey for you on your path to citizenship, and you have many new responsibilities,” said Deputy County Executive Pam Lavers in remarks to ceremony attendees. “And one of those near and dear to OneMacomb is embracing diversity and differences of opinion and culture. We hope that you become an active member of your community and share and celebrate those differences with us.”
Remarks were also given by the master of ceremonies, Michael Tolhurst, a supervisory immigration services officer for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Following a performance of the National Anthem by Lia Catallo, a student at Parkway Christian School, Tolhurst reflected on the hard work that it takes to become a citizen.
“It’s a hard and difficult process to become a new citizen,” he said. “[…] at times we all struggle to reach goals, but today is a culmination of your success. Your hard work is evident.”
County Executive Mark A. Hackel also joined in this position, commenting on the “incredible journey” it takes to attain citizenship.
“Witnessing these ceremonies is an emotional experience,” he said. “Becoming a US citizen is quite a journey. A journey mixed with eagerness, anxiety, hope and passion – with the goal of exploring opportunities and to enjoy the freedoms we sometimes take for granted. I am so excited for each new citizen and wish them much success as fellow Americans.”
Hackel then introduced the event’s keynote speaker, Inge Zomboreanu Boettcher, a Macomb County Community Mental Health employee that shared her own citizenship story. Inge was born and raised in communist Romania. She and her family came to United States as political refugees in 1990, after the 1989 Revolution. They became U.S. citizens in 1996 and Inge has worked for Macomb County for 17 years. In her remarks, she shared how she is still very much Romanian in her heart, but she is also a proud American and grateful to her new country for the opportunities it has provided.
Following Inge’s story, the ceremony proceeded to the Oath of Allegiance led by the Honorable Judge George Caram Steeh from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The 24 immigrants rose from their seats and recited the Oath and the Pledge of Allegiance. They then received special documentation and by the time they sat back down, they were new U.S. citizens – individuals with different backgrounds from places that span the globe, who are all now connected by a love of country, the United States of America.
To learn about the naturalization process and see what qualifications individuals must meet to become citizens, visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services page here.
*Individuals participating in the naturalization ceremony represented 16 different countries including: Albania, Bangladesh, China, Croatia, Germany, India, Iraq, Jordan, Korea, Lebanon, Liberia, Peru, Poland, South Korea, Tunisia and Yemen.
Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.