Commissioner Kerlikowske's Remarks at a Naturalization Ceremony in Faneuil Hall, Boston, MA
Remarks as Prepared for July 28, 2016
Thank you, Judge Panos. I’m so pleased to be able to join all of you here for this ceremony – and how fitting it is that it is being held here at Faneuil Hall – which was built, incidentally, by the son of French immigrants.
In 1630, English settlers seeking freedom from religious persecution helped found this city of Boston. Two centuries later, the Irish population here grew from 4,000 in 1840 to more than 50,000 by 1855, as desperate economic and political conditions in Ireland drove whole families to migrate to North America, seeking new opportunities and better lives.
We’ve all heard many times that the United States is a nation of immigrants.
Eight signers of the Declaration of Independence were immigrants. Five Presidents – including Thomas Jefferson – were the sons of immigrants. Nearly one-third of the American Nobel Prize winners were born outside the United States.
From Madeleine Albright to Mikhail Baryshnikov, from Albert Einstein to Andrew Carnegie, from Carlos Santana to Cary Grant –– immigrants have shaped our nation, our culture, and our world.
Today’s naturalization ceremony marks an emotional turning point in your lives. Your journeys here are as varied and unique as each of you. Each of you has a story to tell, and your children and your nieces and nephews will undoubtedly – and hopefully – share that story with their own children.
Speaking of stories, I’d like to tell you a story of another immigrant – a child who came over with her parents from Hungary during the height of the Cold War in 1956.
This little girl – 5 years old – lived in Hungary with her parents. Her father was a college professor who supported Hungary’s independence from the Soviet Union. The Soviets issued an arrest warrant for the professor, and he probably would have been executed.
He and his wife and daughter fled Hungary in the middle of the night with one suitcase and the clothes they were wearing – and they hid in the back of a hay-wagon. 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. After a month in a refugee camp in New Jersey, they settled in Cleveland. The college professor took a job as a laborer and he and his wife went to school to learn English. Five years later, the family became naturalized citizens of the United States.
Why am I telling you about this little girl?
Because she was like any one of you…or your children. Because her dreams, and the dreams of her parents, are your dreams.
And because that little girl grew up to be my wife, Anna. So, I have a deeply personal connection to this issue.
I know that you have worked very hard to get here – and I hope I’m not being presumptuous by saying that I’m sure you are grateful that this day has arrived.
But I want to emphasize something – and it’s something I hope hasn’t been overlooked in this process – and that’s our gratitude to you.
As a nation, the United States is often called the “land of opportunity” for those who come here.
But it’s clear that you – as newly minted citizens – are giving us some very precious gifts: your talents, your energy, your hope … the perspectives borne of your own experiences, and your commitment to our democracy. These gifts enrich and ennoble America in ways that our Founding Fathers could never have imagined.
So, the United States of America welcomes you. We are grateful that you are joining us. You make us stronger, more vibrant, more resilient.
On behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security, let me offer my heartiest congratulations.