WASHINGTON — As the chorus of voices finished reciting the Oath of Allegiance, Mahad Abdille broke into an enormous grin. Around him, his fellow new citizens began waving tiny American flags, but in the third row, with his head bowed, Abdille just kept smiling.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I couldn’t control my emotion.”
The 24-year-old Abdille, who came to the United States from a Somalian refugee camp eight years ago, was one of 30 immigrants from 22 nations sworn into citizenship Wednesday morning at the Department of the Treasury in Washington, part of a week of Independence Day celebrations by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Across the country, more than 7,800 new citizens will be naturalized at more than 100 ceremonies at unusual venues, from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, according to Sarah Taylor, the Washington district director for the immigration office. The annual event is meant to celebrate and raise awareness of the role of immigration in the U.S.
At the Department of the Treasury ceremony, held in the ornate Cash Room with a giant chandelier overhead, Treasury Secretary Jacob L. Lew spoke about the importance of immigrants to the American economy.
“It is no surprise that when you look at the list of America’s best businesses, many of them were started by immigrants or children of immigrants,” he said. “We are talking about 40% of all Fortune 500 companies.”
“Yet the troubling truth remains that too many immigrants do not get a fair shot at the American Dream,” he added, before asking Congress to pass the comprehensive immigration reform bill awaiting action in the House of Representatives.
Two of the naturalization ceremonies will take place overseas, at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and the U.S. Embassy in South Korea, for 41 members of the military.
Other are being held at locations significant to the county’s history and culture, including the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia (where she is supposed to have sewn the first American flag) and natural parks, such as Crater Lake in Oregon and Saguaro in Arizona.
A high-profile celebration Thursday at Mount Vernon in Virginia will be presided over by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and a George Washington impersonator. Several ceremonies will take place before minor-league baseball games, in recognition of America’s pastime.
“We want every ceremony to be special for our citizens-to-be,” Taylor said.
That was certainly the case for Herbert Crooks, who said it was “extra special” to be taking his Oath of Allegiance at the Cash Room, a former supplying area for commercial banks that was designed to look like a roofed Italian palazzo. The Cash Room formerly handled the government's financial business, including supplying currency to commercial banks and selling U.S. Treasury bonds.
It has been 25 years since Crooks came to the United States from Panama with his father at the age of 16. In the intervening years, he fought in the Gulf War and started a family of his own.
“I always felt I was American,” he said. “This is my home.”
But after putting off the process for two decades, he finally applied for citizenship to “set a good example” for this sons.
“I didn’t think it was going to be this satisfying,” he said.