By Kate DeRiel, LWV Haverford Twp.
One of the most rewarding jobs as a League member in Delaware County, PA, is to take part in the naturalization ceremonies held four times a year. As you know, the path to citizenship is a long one in the U.S., involving five years of paperwork and study, culminating in a citizenship test. Upon passing the test, citizens are then ready to be welcomed into citizenship. Delaware County’s Naturalization Board holds a ceremony for these new citizens, and their families and the League have long participated.
The ceremony begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Media Courthouse with a welcome speech and prayer by a local religious leader followed by a musical performance, usually a local high school’s choir or singing group. There are then speeches by county judges and officials and a keynote speech by a judge or other official about the challenges of being an immigrant and becoming a citizen of the United States. Then there is a swearing-in for all the participants (in our county about 40 – 50 people are included each time) and they have their photo taken with one of the judges and the American flag. After that, they are directed to the LWV table.
At our table, we welcome each person with congratulations and a packet of materials about how to register to vote. In the packets, we have a welcome letter from someone in the League with contact information. We also include information about websites for voters to use to find out information about candidates and some handouts from the LWV. (There are also other tables with resources for them, from the DAR to the VFW and the American Legion, all welcoming the new citizens with pins or flags. Our LWV table is first in line in Delco, though!)
It is quite an inspirational event to attend because the new citizens from 20 or 30 different countries are so happy to be Americans. You start to think of some countries where women have not been allowed to vote, or where a ruling family makes all the laws for years and years. Now they are happy to be in a place where at least we can vote without intimidation and have a say in how we are governed.
One person in the League can easily handle the welcome and distribution of our welcome letter and voting materials, but it is fun to bring another LWV member. It’s especially good for new members, who get to see another example of democracy in action and to realize how important our way of life is to others seeking a new life here. Perhaps some of your League members could invite new members to join them at the naturalization ceremonies. We do this four times a year, with each of our three Leagues taking turns, so it is not onerous for any one League or any one person.
If your League isn’t already involved in this process, you should call your county’s Naturalization Board to find out how often new citizens are inducted and where. You can then ask to be included for the next ceremony. You need to find out the date and time for the next naturalization ceremony and how many people will be included so that you can prepare packets for each of them, plus a few extra. Our League rotates the job among three Leagues in the county, and we prepare the packets for the next League in advance and “hand them off” at a county-wide LWV meeting. We keep all the materials in a box, including envelopes and LWV pins for your members to wear at the ceremony. We usually have 30 to 35 countries represented by the new citizens, and the League always ends up feeling proud to include them as Americans and new voters!
Call Kate deRiel at 610-446-8383 or email her at email@example.com if you’d like more information about LWV participation in Delaware County or if you have questions about participation in your county.