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Right Site for Citizenship

Every immigrant who stands before a federal judge and pledges allegiance to the United States as one of its newest citizens makes an enormously fateful step. Participants get more than a small American flag. Minutes earlier they were Mexican, Chinese, Russian, any of 100 or more foreign nationalities. With that pledge they become Americans, and that’s an achievement that should be joyously celebrated.

So why must this party take place at the enormous Convention Center downtown, 3,000 or so new immigrants at a time swearing the oath and then shuffling out to give the next batch its turn? Citizenship is a treasure; so why miss the opportunity to make it more meaningful?

That’s what Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Ruben Zacarias had in mind when he floated the idea of holding citizenship ceremonies in neighborhood schools, where the new Americans would be among their friends and family, including some who had already been naturalized or soon might be.

America is a country of communities, neighborhoods, ethnic groups and races. We live around our schools. In many cases our fathers and daughters have graduated from the same campus. The school is where we learn American ways. So why not toss the party of a lifetime at one?

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Zacarias raised the idea at a recent meeting with Times executives. He was describing the relationship between the LAUSD and the Immigration and Naturalization Service in which school district staffers and volunteers help the INS by offering lessons to applicants on citizenship, English and history and assisting with their papers. Since the program started in 1994, the LAUSD has helped more than 167,000 prospective citizens. Bringing the celebration of the effort home to the local school is a fine idea.


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