New citizens behold the glory
Varnished monoliths never fail to impress, but the grandest view atop Colorado National Monument on Tuesday was through the eyes of newly minted U.S. citizens.
They were excited, nervous and happy, many said, describing a potent mix of emotions moments before the first-of-its-kind ceremony started around 10 a.m.
“This is the first time we’ve ever had a naturalization ceremony like this out on the Western Slope,” said Andrew Lambrecht, Denver field office director for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
Lambrecht, in collaboration with the National Park Service, U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. District Court, set the event at the monument on the same day as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day to put stars in the eyes of the 40 immigrants from 20 countries who took part.
“This is the anniversary of the day the Constitution was signed,” Lambrecht said. “It’s the document that establishes our way of life here. It’s something that all of these people making that choice to become an American citizen, they had to learn about it ... so to highlight it on this day is especially important and special for them.”
It was standing room only on the rim as roughly 100 family and friends looked on, along with several members of the community who wanted to let their patriotism show.
“We’re here to celebrate Constitution Day and the naturalization of all these new U.S. citizens,” said Lori-Ann Parrott, regent for the Mount Garfield Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. “Wow, what a place to come in and become a citizen.”
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Gordon P. Gallagher administered the oath near Saddlehorn Visitor Center. Independence Monument, rising 450 feet from the desert floor, supplied a majestic backdrop just across the maw.
“This is a very special day and a very special session,” Gallagher said.
“I usually try to give remarks directly to the new citizens to thank them for making the choice to become an American citizen because it is a choice. It’s not mandatory,” Lambrecht said.
Among the citizenship candidates at Saddlehorn was Eli Rosa of Aspen. Rosa came from El Salvador as a 10-year-old, following his parents who fled the country in 1990 to escape a civil war.
Rosa was missing his 14-year-old daughter, Dominique, and wife, Dixie, who could not make the trip.
“I never get nervous,” Rosa said, his hands quivering a bit. “But it’s a moment I’ve been waiting for a long time”
Another candidate, Ledina Z. Burns, came from the Philippines to the U.S. after marrying her husband. A 90-day cruise booked a year ago was the impetus for Burns’ decision to become a citizen.
“We’ll be visiting so many islands, I’ll probably need like 25 visas, so we decided I needed to get U.S. citizenship,” she said.
“I’m nervous and happy,” Burns said. “It’s a big step in my life. No more applications, no more paperwork, no more worrying.”
Mustafa Khan, who was naturalized in 2001, beamed as his wife, Sabira, was sworn in.
Sabira came to the U.S. in 2009 as student to earn a masters degree after completing a PhD program in India. She is also a teacher, Khan, owner of the Mesa Inn in Grand Junction, said. “It’s been great to be a citizen. She’s happy. I’m happy,” he said.
In 2012, 92 of the 763,681 who took the oath of citizenship nationwide resided in Grand Junction, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.