Alabama Court Invites Children to Celebrate Citizenship
Citizen naturalization ceremonies are among the happiest and most inspirational events that take place in federal courtrooms, and now the Middle District of Alabama has found a way to make sure that the children of immigrants don’t miss out on a cherished rite of passage.
The court earlier this summer hosted a special ceremony for the children of recently naturalized citizens, presided over by Senior District Judge Myron H. Thompson in a historic courtroom in Montgomery, the site of civil rights-era victories over segregation.
The ceremony opened with the group singing the National Anthem and culminated with the children reciting the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and receiving certificates of citizenship. Thompson talked to the young people about both their civic responsibilities and potential opportunities as American citizens, and later posed for snapshots with the teenagers and their parents or guardians.
“Of the many, many naturalizations over which I have presided these thirty-five-plus years, this one was the most meaningful,” Thompson said.
Among the group was Rosemary Togarepi, who recently graduated from high school. Her father, Shepherd Togarepi, moved his family from Zimbabwe to Mobile, earned a GED and an associate’s degree, and became a mechanic. He has typically American hopes for his children.
“I always try to challenge them to try to do better than what I've done,” he said, adding that he is eager for Rosemary to register to vote and to obtain a passport to travel to his native country. “This is just a dream coming true."
Children under the age of 18 automatically acquire citizenship when their parents become naturalized citizens. If they are over the age of 14, they are required to take the allegiance oath, but a ceremony to mark the occasion is optional.
The ceremony was jointly planned with the regional U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office, and is part of a concerted community engagement effort by Chief Judge W. Keith Watkins.
“We are philosophically committed to engaging the public in projects that educate citizens, particularly the young,” Watkins said. “Our facilities are public monuments to the rule of law, and fostering positive experiences in them advances civic literacy and awareness.”
The court plans additional ceremonies for children of new citizens at the historic courthouse. The Frank M. Johnson Jr. U.S. Courthouse is named for the judge who ruled that Montgomery’s segregated seating on buses was unlawful and who upheld the right of protesters to march from Selma to Montgomery.
Editor’s Note: Every year, schools and communities participate with federal courts in naturalization ceremonies on or before Constitution Day and Citizenship Day on Sept. 17. This year, many courts are observing the day on Sept. 16 at courthouses, national parks and historic places, including the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial.
Related Topics: Events and Ceremonies