Thursday, July 26, 2007
An honor to serve

Editor’s note: This the first of an eight-part series featuring recently naturalized foreign-born Marines.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After taking an oath to serve and protect in the Marine Corps, eight Marines were allowed to take the Oath of Allegiance to support and defend the Constitution as U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony held at the Department of Veteran Affairs Tuesday.

There were 14 countries represented amongst the 25 men and women, who accepted the responsibility and honor of being the newest Americans. The new nationals, 13 of whom were service members representing all four of the U.S. Armed Forces, were originally from Argentina, Columbia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan and the Philippines.

‘‘This is so exciting. I started the process last October or November,” said Lance Cpl. Sona Babani, a unit diary clerk at Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Quantico, originally from Baghdad, Iraq. ‘‘It wasn’t a bad process. It could have been worse.”

Babani added that although she hasn’t been to Iraq with the Corps, she expects it will happen during her career.

The process of becoming an American citizen became easier in 2002, when President George W. Bush signed an executive order that expedited the process for service members serving during wartime. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has naturalized more than 32,500 members of the U.S. Armed Forces since the beginning of the global war on terrorism, according to a USCIS press release.

‘‘This is a new beginning in your life,” said Dr. Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of USIC to the new U.S. citizens during the ceremony. ‘‘Our constitution asks that you defend a way of thinking, a way of life – that you defend the principles based on individual freedom and economic liberty and a rule of law.”

The ceremonial speakers were as diverse as the citizens being sworn in. Each wanted to give a piece of their experience as naturalized Americans and wish them luck in their new lives.

‘‘A week ago I was in a very, very passionate debate about the role of immigration in the United States. Too many detractors would say that immigrants were coming here to take away, but I would venture to ask them to look at the faces in this crowd, because nobody here is taking away,” said Gonzalez, who was naturalized when he was 9 years old. ‘‘Everybody here is saying I want to add. I want to give back. I want to be part of. I want to be included. I want to build, and that is what makes America great.”

Giving back is something retired Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba knows something about. During the ceremony, he was awarded the ‘‘Americans by Choice Award” for his outstanding achievements and citizenship.

‘‘My family and I arrived from the Philippines not knowing what the future and life would be in America, but it was the beginning of a new life where there would be great opportunities and also a great amount of challenges to be ahead,” said Taguba, who was nationalized in 1962 and went on to earn three master’s degrees, as well as retire from 34 years of service. ‘‘There are also tremendous expectations – to remember the generosity of this wonderful country, to serve as some of you are doing today, and to contribute to its rich traditions and our history.”