White House Naturalization Ceremony; HIAS Reflections
Posted by Gideon Aronoff on Fri, Apr 23, 2010 at 20:04 pm
I’m on the train heading home after a tremendously inspiring day in Washington, DC, where I saw firsthand the power of American patriotism and the way that our calling to welcome immigrants and protect refugees can reinvigorate our country. This morning I had the honor of being present as part of a very small number of invited guests at a Rose Garden ceremony swearing-in of 24 immigrant members of the U.S. military as new citizens of the United States. You can read these brief biographies of our new fellow citizens to learn how, even before joining us in citizenship, they served our country as members of our active duty military.
Today’s events were particularly poignant for me in light of the fact that we just learned of the recent death of Lt. Steve (Slava) Zilberman, a navy pilot who died while on a return mission from Afghanistan to an aircraft carrier in the North Arabian Sea. Zilberman, a former HIAS client, was born in Kiyv and came to the U.S. with HIAS’ assistance at age 13. As we mourn Lt. Zilberman – and keep his parents, wife, and children in our thoughts and prayers – we can only be inspired by his tremendous passion and commitment for his new country, and his willingness to sacrifice for our safety and our freedom.
Lt. Zilberman’s patriotism, and that of the new Americans who became citizens this morning, remind all of us that immigrants are, and always have been, the backbone of this country. They serve in our military, they work hard, and their central goal is to raise their families to enjoy the American opportunity to succeed and to serve their country and community. While this morning’s ceremony was rightly focused on honoring the new Americans, I also was gratified by President Obama’s strong remarks urging Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform, and condemning a law recently passed by the Arizona legislature that essentially criminalizes undocumented immigrants in this country. In his strongest pro-immigration statement since coming to office, President Obama stated that: "Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others. That includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe." President Obama concluded his comments on the Arizona law by saying that, "…if we continue to fail to act at the federal level we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country."
Sadly, but not surprisingly, the Arizona bill was signed late this afternoon and will now allow police to stop anyone on suspicion of being an illegal resident and force that person to produce documentation to prove he or she is in this country legally. HIAS and other opponents of the bill fear this will encourage racial profiling and put all residents of Arizona at risk. We will continue to oppose the Arizona approach to dealing with our immigration problems and will honor Lt. Zilberman, and all of the foreign-born members of the American military, by continuing to organize for positive and patriotic solutions to our immigration problems. HIAS can justifiably be proud of our contributions thus far to this effort; we will persist in this campaign until our country has an immigration system that truly honors our identity as a nation of immigrants.