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Newly naturalized Americans reflect on citizenship in a fraught political era

President Trump’s language about immigration and lawmakers of color has sparked a national conversation about racism and xenophobia. But every year, hundreds of thousands make their way to the U.S. and begin the rigorous process of becoming citizens. We talk to newly minted Americans at a Virginia naturalization ceremony about what the milestone means during this politically charged time.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The president's language on immigration and his attacks on four congresswomen of color have sparked a national conversation about xenophobia and racism.

    But across the country every year, hundreds of thousands of immigrants still make their way to the U.S. and begin the rigorous process to eventually become citizens.

    Earlier this week, producer Kate Grumke went to a naturalization ceremony in Alexandria, Virginia, and talked to newly minted Americans about what it means to be a citizen and an immigrant in this politically charged time.

  • Edgardo Ramirez:

    My name is Edgardo Ramirez. I'm from El Salvador. It's a very special moment, because there's a lot of people that would really like the opportunity to do it, and there's just no way they can. I'm glad it's coming to an end, and I don't have to worry about any potential problems from not being a citizen.

    Today, my wife, Jessica, and my daughter Sofia and my son Gabriel is here with me. My daughter was kind of nervous on the way here because she sees the news sometimes, too. And she's like, "Daddy, what are you going to go do today?"

    And I just told her, you know, I'm just going to become a U.S. citizen, and I don't have to worry about any of the stuff that she sees on the news.

    I stayed with my grandmother in El Salvador. When I was about 5 years old, my mother came here. And I came here with my older brother in October of 2000. It was a long wait. Like, between court hearings, it could be years. About 16 years, I have been in process, ever since I came to the United States, obviously, a lot of money to get to this point.

  • Sarah Taylor:

    It's my pleasure and my honor to be with you here today to celebrate your United States citizenship.

    I'm Sarah Taylor. I'm the district director for the Washington district of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

    It's different for every person, but, generally, they will have been here as permanent residents for three to five years. They will pay an application fee and get biometrics taken to file. And they will be interviewed by an officer of the service, who will determine that they read, write, and speak English.

    They have to know civics and government as well. And then the final step in the process is to take the oath of allegiance at a naturalization ceremony.

    Today, we naturalized 170 people. In fiscal year '18, it was over 750,000 people who naturalized nationally. For this particular ceremony, we had immigrants who we're naturalizing from 56 different countries.

    Northern Virginia and D.C. very diverse.

    Congratulations. You're American citizens.

  • Woman:

    I'm from Zimbabwe.

  • Ha Nguygen:

    I am from Vietnam.

  • Mattie Hunsader:

    I'm originally from Philippines, and, today, I took my oath as a U.S. citizen.

  • Woman:

    That is a great thing, to be a citizen.

  • Mattie Hunsader:

    This is the land of opportunity. So I am really looking forward to what opportunities I can explore in this country.

  • Ha Nguygen:

    To be able to vote is something that I think is very powerful, to be able to participate in that democracy. I am excited for November and elections beyond.

  • President Donald Trump:

    It is with great pride that I welcome you into the American family. No matter where you come from, or what faith you practice, this country is now your country. Our history is now your history.

  • Ha Nguygen:

    Earlier in the room, there's a message from the president as well, like very welcoming and other things. And it kind of sounded like a script, compared to what he's currently saying out in the news.

    United Nations My opinion about immigration, I think they should all come legally and just do all the application and everything, and life will be good, I think, and easy.

  • Doreena Phoenix:

    If you're here in America, you have to obey the laws and follow the laws.

  • Edgardo Ramirez:

    I have had a pathway here since I came here, because both my parents were here and they were here for a long time. But, you know, there's virtually no pathway for people to come here just because they're trying to get away from violence and, you know, poverty and struggles of their countries.

    It's not that easy. People who have minor infractions, they don't have a way to become naturalized. And, you know, they have been torn apart from their sons, daughters, wives, and family members here.

    I just think it's very unfair. I'm just glad that I'm finally a U.S. citizen, after a long wait.

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