July 03, 2017

Senator Harris Delivers Remarks at Citizenship Ceremony for Children and Youth

LOS ANGELES – Today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris delivered remarks at a Citizenship Ceremony for 41 children and youth, from 14 different countries, who were sworn in as U.S. citizens on board the USS Iowa in San Pedro. This was the first Citizenship Ceremony to be held on board the Battleship USS Iowa. The ceremony was for children and youth who derived citizenship when their immigrant parents became naturalized citizens.

ceremony 2

ceremony 1

Full remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning, everybody. I am so glad to be here with all of you, on this ship that reminds us of the service and sacrifices of the men and women of our Navy and throughout our armed forces.

I want to thank Jonathan Williams, President of Battleship Iowa, as well as Nancy Alby, Susan Curda, and the Customs and Immigration leaders who are here.

And as your U.S. Senator, I’m so honored and excited to say to you: greetings, my fellow Americans.

Because, today, that is what you are: fellow Americans. 

The 41 of you come from 14 different countries all across the globe. You come from China and Chile. From Egypt and Ecuador. From Mexico, Ghana, South Korea and the Philippines.

But by filing those certificates of citizenship, today you are all Americans by choice.

So, congratulations.

Looking at this group, I can’t help but think of a young woman roughly the age of many of you.

She was born in Chennai, in the south of India, where she had been a talented singer and a precocious student. And this young woman dreamed of becoming a scientist.

She wanted to study at one of the top universities in the world, the University of California, Berkeley. She was only 19, but her father let her travel halfway around the world, with the agreement that when she finished school she would return home to a traditional Indian marriage.

But at Berkeley, this young woman met a young man, also an immigrant. A top economics student from Jamaica. And so instead of an arranged marriage, she went against thousands of years of tradition and chose a love marriage. 

That woman was my mother, Shyamala Gopalan.

It was a hard choice and a brave choice that she made, fueled by love and optimism.

And so is the decision that each of you has made to become citizens. Many of you have traveled thousands of miles and endure difficult journeys to get here. You’ve had to learn new languages, new cultures and new customs.

And here’s what I want you all to remember as you begin your life as official American citizens:

Remember that immigrants don’t just belong in America, immigrants have built America.

Eight immigrants signed the Declaration of Independence.

Chinese laborers worked on the railroads that linked this country together.

The son of a Kenyan immigrant became our 44th President. 

So when I see you, the 41 newest citizens of this imperfect but great nation, I see the future.

I see patriots who will make our country more inclusive and more innovative.

I see scientists like my mother, who will help unravel the mysteries of disease.

I see entrepreneurs, like the immigrants who’ve founded some of America’s most iconic companies, like Apple and Google.

I see men and women in uniform, like the ones who have manned this ship, protecting people they will never meet and who will never know their names.

And whenever you feel that future is threatened, whenever those values of liberty and justice for all that drew us here seem under assault, you need to speak up and speak out. That’s the whole point of the freedoms we cherish.

You chose to become United States citizens. Now, I’m asking you to choose to embrace the responsibilities of citizenship.

Get involved. Attend town halls or city council meeting. Run for office yourselves. Vote.

Remember that imperfect though we may be, our greatest strength has always been our ability and willingness to fix those imperfections and make our country a more just and equal place.

So despite the challenges we face as a nation, I agree with the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who said on the 4th of July many years ago, “I do not despair of this country.”

Because throughout my career, and now as a United States Senator, I’ve seen what makes America great 

Tomorrow, people will celebrate American independence with food and fireworks. But for me, there’s no greater celebration of what this country is than the outpouring of love and support we saw just a few months ago when new arrivals to this country were under assault 

Thousands of people wrote and called Congress.

Americans all over the country marched.

They rallied at airports, where they offered legal advice, handed out food, and waved signs.

Like the young woman at LAX holding the U.S. flag with the poem from the Statue of Liberty written on it: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The little girl with a sign that said, “Unless you are Native American, aren’t we all immigrants?”

Or the man in a cowboy hat in Texas, standing outside a mosque with a sign that read, “You belong. Stay strong. Be blessed. We are one America.”

It’s a reminder, to paraphrase Justice Louis Brandeis, that the most important title in this country is not Senator or Supreme Court Justice or even President. The most important title in this nation is citizen.

That engagement is what citizenship demands. And that is what citizenship can achieve.

So I hope you remember those words, which demonstrate why America has always been great when we come together.

“You belong. Stay strong. Be blessed. We are one America.”

Congratulations again.

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