US President Barack Obama congratulated a group of newly naturalized citizens in Boston’s Exchange Conference Center via video during the opening reception of the “Becoming Americans” National Immigration Integration Conference (NIIC). Hosted by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, over 400 professionals, immigrant advocates and researchers, and speakers including Governor Deval Patrick and the United States Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis gathered to share thoughts regarding the state of immigration today.
According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer Denis Riordan, the USCIS chose the next twenty-nine people in line, representing fourteen different countries, to participate in this special naturalization ceremony overlooking the Boston Harbor.
New citizen Y. Zhang, originally from Beijing, China, has lived with her husband in the United States for fourteen years. After receiving her citizenship papers following a ceremony which included a performance of “America the Beautiful” and a group-led Pledge of Allegiance, she said, “I’m happy to do this. This is a new phase in my life. It’s a good feeling.”
Riordan, who has coordinated naturalization ceremonies recently in Faneuil Hall, Fenway Park, and the JFK Library said, “There’s a sense of appreciation, gratitude, and joy. It’s important to our country that people take the step towards citizenship.”
Topics over the three days ranged from immigrants’ impact on economic growth, civic engagement, fostering immigrant community law enforcement and protecting civil rights, and the role of immigrants in their host communities.
In his speech, President and CEO of one of the conference’s sponsors, the Boston Foundation, Paul Grogan, explained that the Boston Foundation has “stayed with the [immigration] issue for 100 years” and that the nation must “overcome ambivalence” related to immigration.
Many advocates like conference attendee Beverly Wong from San José, California are trying to overcome this ambivalence by easing integration for immigrants in their local communities. Wong serves as the project coordinator for Asian Americans for Community Involvement and works on Silicon Valley Asian American Voices, a multimedia project that facilitates education and advocacy on policy issues that impact Asian American immigrants.
She attended the conference because she wants “to learn more to engage regarding others with policies and issues relating to immigrant populations.”
Hmong American State Senator Mee Moua from Minnesota received a standing ovation for her speech at the 2nd annual NIIC. Moua, who was born in Laos in 1969, left Thailand at a young age as a political refugee with her family for the United States. She described the challenges she faced as an immigrant. Moua called her ascent to office as the first Hmong American elected to state legislature a confirmation of the American Dream and a turn for the Hmong American community.
Director of the Office of New Bostonians Reverend Cheng Imm Tan enjoyed the opportunity to have the conference in Boston, home of the 7th largest immigrant population in the United States.
“It was such a gift to have the conference in town and to be able to hear about successful programs and strategies and meet so many dedicated immigrant advocates. At a time when anti-immigrant rhetoric is rife, this conference provided inspiration and hope.”
Natalie Ornell is a Sampan correspondent.
This post is also available in: Chinese