For most people, last Friday was just another Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love and eat unlimited chocolate. But for more than 70 people in Cedar Rapids, Feb. 14, 2020 is significant for another reason: it’s the day they became citizens of the United States.
The 74 new citizens sworn in during Friday’s naturalization ceremony at the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library (NCSML) represented almost 30 countries, from Sudan and Singapore to Kenya and Canada to Jordan and Afghanistan. The youngest person who became a citizen was 23 years old and the oldest person was 85.
The NCSML has hosted naturalization ceremonies at its current location, 1400 Inspiration Place SW, since 2016. The museum and library has a rich immigrant history of its own. It was founded in 1974 by second- and third-generation descendants of Czech and Slovak immigrants.
“I want to personally welcome you with an open heart as you sit here today at our national cultural center,” NCSML president and CEO Cecilia Rokusek said. “I want to let each one of you know that we want you all to feel at home here. You can feel at home here no matter where you are from.”
Naturalization — the process of becoming a U.S. citizen — includes an interview, an English test and a civics test. There’s a $640 filing fee, plus a $85 biometric fee. The final step is taking the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony.
The time it takes for the naturalization process varies, but the New York Times found in 2019 that the wait time is now twice as long as it was two years ago. The current wait time is approximately 10 months, but in some offices, applicants might have to wait more than two years.
“The delays come as the Trump administration tightens scrutiny of applications, diverts staff from reviewing them and introduces proposals likely to make it more difficult, and cumbersome, for green-card holders to qualify and complete the process,” the Times found.
In the Northern District of Iowa, around 600 individuals take the oath at a ceremony every year.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Roberts, who presided over the ceremony, said he still gets emotional when he tells people for the first time they are now citizens.
“Ours is a country of immigrants just like you,” Roberts told the new citizens. “Other than those of us who … [are] Native American, each of the rest of us can trace our origins to people just like you — people who have come to this country from another land. Some to seek freedom to worship God as they choose. Some to be free of war, famine or poverty. Some who came here against their will. Once here, though, each of us shared a common goal, to live in freedom.”
Roberts reminded the new citizens about the “responsibility of citizenship:” paying taxes, voting, jury duty and obeying the law.
Following Friday’s ceremony, there were representatives from the League of Women Voters helping the new citizens register to vote, as well as information about how to obtain a social security card and passport.
“The United States of America is a melting pot, and you are representing that,” Rokusek said during her remarks. “And it is a mosaic of cultures that have made us who we are today. We are celebrating this day as we welcome you to be part of our national mosaic.”