Jim: What happens at a naturalization ceremony? Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration attorney here in St. Louis. In most jurisdictions, naturalization ceremonies happen at the federal court house, or at various locations the USCIS arranges to host the naturalization ceremonies. In a very few number of jurisdictions, the immigration officer can actually naturalize someone after their interview, and there isn’t a formal ceremony.
In the vast majority of places, the ceremony occurs about 6 or 8 weeks after your interview. There’s a line, as there always is at immigration … a line for naturalization interviews. You’re basically put into a line; when the next ceremonies open up, you’re available and you go to the ceremony. At the ceremony itself, you’re generally going to be directed to be there a couple hours early. You want make sure to bring something to read or have something to do because you’re going to be waiting in line, and then waiting for the ceremony to start for a couple of hours.
You want to make sure that you leave early; that you don’t get lost; that you know were you’re going to park. A lot of time, like I said, it’s at the federal courthouse, but a lot of schools like to host these because people like to come watch naturalization ceremonies. Naturalization ceremonies are actually a very special event. They’re a lot of fun. I’ve had the pleasure of being the keynote speaker at 2 naturalization ceremonies, and my wife, who’s an immigrant from Egypt, has been a speaker 3 or 4 times.
I always enjoy going to the naturalization ceremonies. You get to see people from all over the world; you get to hear their stories. They’re obviously very happy at the time, and it’s a very exciting moment for them. When you get to the ceremony, you’re going to be asked to present your green card, and you’re going to be asked to present your oath ceremony letter. On the back of that letter you’ll see some questions. The questions are all questions that were asked of you at your interview.
They’re going to want to know whether you’ve taken any trips outside the US since you had your immigration interview. They’re going to want to know if you’ve had any traffic or criminal matters, and they’re going to ask you some other basic information about the time between when you had your ceremony and when you had your interview … backwards. You want to make sure that you’re going to be able to answer all those correctly, and completely, and truthfully. If you have any kind of traffic matters, you’ve got to get those taken care of before the ceremony.
Otherwise, there’s a good chance they might not let you naturalize. If anything has come up, you might want to consult with your immigration attorney, or an immigration attorney, and let them know that there’s been a development. If you got arrested, or if you got a ticket, you’re going to want to definitely make sure that everybody knows that and you’re going to try to take care of it before you get to the ceremony.
You might be able to get the ceremony postponed, but it would be a very sad thing for you to come down with your family and expect to be naturalized that day and be turned away. I’ve seen it happen once or twice, not to my clients, but just in general … and people are usually pretty upset. Once you get down to the ceremony, you’re going to wait in line to go into the courtroom or the auditorium where the ceremony is going be held. You’ll be placed in a line, and you will wait for the ceremony to start.
Typically there’s a federal judge … presides over it, and his or her staff help arrange things in the courtroom. There will be someone that sings the national anthem, says the pledge of allegiance. In St. Louis, at least, they go around and they introduce each of the immigrants who’s going to become a citizen. They ask them to state where they’re from and what their occupation is. It’s actually a really neat part of the ceremony; it’s my favorite part.
The Assistant US Attorneys who introduce the people do a real fine job of pronouncing everyone’s name as best they can. It’s great to hear people stand up, say their name, where they’re from, and what they do. It’s pretty exciting. They’ll then, like I said, have a keynote speaker. Someone will talk about 5 or 10 minutes, explaining and talking about citizenship and what a great benefit it is, and how the United States benefits by having immigrants here.
The presiding judge then administers the oath, which we talk about on other videos … the oath of allegiance to the United States. Everyone raises their right hand, and you’ve seen many pictures of those … of people getting sworn in to be citizens. After that, you wait in line for your citizenship certificate, which is a very important original document. You don’t want to ever lose that; you want to keep it in a safe place.
You should generally have the chance to have your picture taken with the judge who has naturalized you. It’s an exciting day; it’s a fun day. You’re encouraged to bring your family and friends. People dress up, and it’s really a special event. If you have any questions about naturalization, or about the ceremony, or about the oath letter, just give us a call … 314-961-8200. Or you can shoot us an email … firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.