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Welcoming New Citizens

Publication Date: 
Monday, August 8, 2016
Photo of Commissioner Kerlikowske at Naturalization Ceremony
Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske
speaks at a Naturalization Ceremony
in historic Faneuil Hall in Boston, MA.

I recently had the pleasure – and honor – of speaking at a Naturalization Ceremony for 375 candidates for U.S. citizenship. I last spoke at a Naturalization Ceremony when I was Chief of Police in Seattle. These occasions provide an important opportunity to emphasize the role of law enforcement as protectors.

This particular ceremony was held in Boston at the beautiful and historic Faneuil Hall – a landmark built by the son of French immigrants in a city founded by English settlers.

We’ve all heard many times that the United States is a nation of immigrants.
Five Presidents – including Thomas Jefferson – were the sons of immigrants. From Albert Einstein to Andrew Carnegie, from Carlos Santana to Cary Grant –– immigrants have shaped our nation, our culture, and our world.

As part of my remarks, I shared the story of just one of those immigrants – a little girl who arrived with her parents from Hungary during the Cold War in the 1950s. Her father, a college professor, supported Hungary’s independence. The Soviets issued an arrest warrant for him, and – had he been captured – he most likely faced execution. The family fled in the middle of the night with a suitcase and the clothes on their backs. They hid in a hay wagon and when they reached the Austrian border, the man carried the little girl on his back across the river and the family reached freedom. The Red Cross flew them to the United States and they eventually settled in Cleveland. Five years later, the family became naturalized citizens of the United States.

That little girl grew up to become my wife.

So I have a deeply personal connection to this issue.

Faneuil Hall’s nickname is the “Cradle of Liberty.” For every immigrant, the Naturalization Ceremony is a “rebirth” of sorts – a new beginning. Whenever I read interviews or speak with newly-minted U.S. citizens, they often express gratitude towards the United States. But we must remember to thank them. Immigrants give us some very precious gifts: their talents, their energy, the perspectives borne of their varied experiences, and their commitment to our democracy. These gifts enrich and ennoble America in ways that our Founding Fathers could never have imagined. Immigrants make us stronger, more vibrant, and more resilient.

Last modified: 
April 7, 2021