55 immigrants become U.S. citizens at Concord ceremony 

  • Monique Larson stands outside the Warren Rudman Federal Court House after the naturalization ceremony on Friday, July 19, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Newly naturalized citizen Jim O’Connell outside the Warren Rudman Federal Building on Friday in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Baneen (left) and Kareem Aged from Manchester pose with their naturalized citizen certificates outside the Warren Rudman Federal Court House in Concord on Friday, July 19, 2019. Father and daughter came from Iraq seven years ago. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/19/2019 5:30:05 PM
Modified: 7/19/2019 5:29:52 PM

Jim O’Connell hustled out the tall double doors of Warren B. Rudman Courthouse minutes after becoming a U.S. citizen. He had to get to Manchester city hall so he could run for office.

“Manchester school district is the largest school district in the state and it’s got lots of issues,” said O’Connell, who plans to run for an at-large seat on the Manchester school board. “I’m running to make change.”

O’Connell and 54 others were naturalized at the federal courthouse in Concord on Friday. Presiding Judge Andrea Johnstone said this nation of immigrants became even stronger with them as citizens.

“America needs your experience, talents, culture and diversity,” Johnstone, who’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Poland and Germany, told the group.

Gov. Chris Sununu welcomed the new citizens and reminded the crowd that almost every American has an immigration story. His grandparents became Americans after coming from Lebanon and Ireland, he said, and just the ability to become an American makes this country special.

“You can go to Japan to live, but you cannot become Japanese. You can go to France to live and not become a Frenchman… Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American,” the governor said, quoting the last speech Ronald Reagan made as president.

The governor also implored the new citizens to serve the country.

Friday was the last day to register to run for the school board, O’Connell said, so he felt lucky he was naturalized in time to meet the governor’s challenge.

“I think I’ve been called!” he said.

Eager to work for the community, O’Connell saw a contradiction between the naturalization ceremony and recent rhetoric from President Trump and his supporters calling for four elected representatives who are women of color, three of whom were born in the U.S., to “go back” to other countries.

“Every word that was said in there today, I couldn’t get it out of my mind – the discord, the disconnect… it all flies in the face of ‘Send her back! Send her back!’” O’Connell said, referencing chants heard at a Trump rally in North Carolina on Wednesday.

O’Connell came from Ireland and has lived in six countries. His many national identities make him a typical American, he said.

“You aren’t an ‘other’ American. You’re an American,” O’Connell said. “When you become a citizen of the United States you are as part of that family as anybody else. Nobody is more of a citizen than you are, even though there are people in our community who like to think that.”

Friends and family filled every seat between the wooden columns in the back of the courtroom. As a young woman sang the national anthem, the crowd gently joined her, each voice self-assured and reverent.

“It’s an honor, it’s a privilege,” said O’Connell, who has lived in the country for 27 years. “I don’t take it lightly. There are people all over the world who would love to be standing in my position today.”

For many, the ceremony capped a long journey.

“This is my home country now. This is my home, and I’m happy here,” Monique Larson, of Rumney, who came from South Africa and has called the U.S. home for 16 years, said.

Rony Camille of Nashua said his first order of business as a citizen would be to register to vote.

“It’s kind of crazy that this is it,” said Camille, who led the newly naturalized in the pledge of allegiance with his family. “I’m now a U.S. citizen.”

Karla Garcia’s three daughters and husband waited for her in the back of the courtroom as she got her papers. She gave her certificate of citizenship a hard look as she stood in line to take a picture with Judge Johnstone.

“I’m excited and nervous at the same time,” said Garcia, who lives in Concord and came to the U.S. from Mexico. “And I’m proud to be an American.”

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