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Saturday, December 2, 2023


Rice assists immigrants in naturalization

Rice Stadium became an open-air courtroom as a district judge swore in 866 new citizens of the United States on Saturday, only days before today’s deadline for voter registration.

More than 1,200 people from 98 countries were scheduled for naturalization on Sept. 24, but because of damages to the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services building from Hurricane Ike the event was suspended indefinitely. When Rice University was contacted for help, however, it took less than two days for the school to organize the event and make a courtroom out of the stadium.

"Welcome, my fellow Americans," said U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes as he addressed the group seated in the bleachers.

Hughes presided over the ceremony that included an instrumental version of the "Star Spangled Banner," a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and of the Oath of Allegiance, all to an image of a waving flag on the stadium Jumbotron. Motions for name changes and the setting of a new naturalization date for those who could not attend were also heard and accepted.

"We’re excited for it to be over," said new citizen Juan Manuel S’aacute;lazar of San Lu’iacute;s Potos’iacute;, Mexico, after the ceremony. "(There was) too much paperwork."

S’aacute;lazar had waited five years for this day.

Hughes said the ceremony was important not only because of the naturalization of the citizens, but also because of their new ability to vote in the coming elections.

"You have a direct hand in the management of your government," Hughes said "Use it."

Staff and volunteers from the League of Women Voters were on hand to register the new citizens to vote only minutes after the final forms were signed by the applicants to complete their naturalization. A representative from the Harris County court system was also available to immediately deliver the necessary documents for registration.

While most kept mum of their presidential pick, S’aacute;lazar said he will be voting for Barack Obama.

"He won’t have any say in which way to vote (in November); he comes from a (very) Democratic family," joked S’aacute;lazar’s wife and UH alumna Elizabeth Hughes-S’aacute;lazar.

S’aacute;lazar said his family had hinted that the Republican administration might have had something to do with the delay in Juan Manuel’s path to citizenship. Until Saturday, they had almost bought into that idea wholly.

"I was one of the ‘conspiracy theorists’ that Republicans were stopping this vote, and I want to honor Lynn Hughes (a Republican) for stepping up to the plate and swearing everybody in," said Sally Lehr, S’aacute;lazar’s mother in law.

Egyptian immigrant and new citizen Ashraf Metry felt differently.

"I’m voting for (John) McCain. The reasons are complicated," he said.

Metry also had a five-year journey to become a citizen, but waited longer for his green card than his citizenship.

"It was only a matter of a couple of months. I applied (for citizenship) in June and I’ve been sworn in today."

The top three countries of origins for the newly naturalized citizens were Mexico, Vietnam and El Salvador.

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