Cougar Ridge Elementary School students witness citizenship ceremony

April 10, 2012

By Tom Corrigan

Ann Marie Petry, Cougar Ridge Elementary School music instructor (right), leads students in the singing of two patriotic songs at an April 6 naturalization ceremony held at Cougar Ridge. The naturalization candidates are on the stage behind Petry. By Tom Corrigan

Isabelle Bouanna came here from France in 1995 when her husband Cyril got a job at Microsoft.

Eventually, Isabelle Bouanna also got a job with the company as a linguist, helping translate and guide software into French.

“I think it’s just a natural thing,” she said regarding becoming a naturalized American citizen.

Bouanna and others did just that thing during a naturalization ceremony April 6 held in front of several hundred third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Cougar Ridge Elementary School.

The ceremony was presided over by Linda Dougherty, Seattle Field Office director for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Dougherty administered the Oath of Allegiance taken by the citizenship candidates, who after repeating the oath became American citizens.

Why was the ceremony held at Cougar Ridge? A USCIS official just happens to have children attending the Issaquah School District building in Bellevue, according to Sharon Rummery, of the USCIS. Dougherty suggested the citizenship service could have a ceremony at the school and Principal Jackie Tanner was reportedly quick to agree.

For the event, Cougar Ridge fourth- and fifth-graders sang patriotic songs, while a smaller group of third-grade students presented the new U.S. citizens with handmade cards and flags.

Each new citizen also received a formal certificate from USCIS.

During the ceremony, Bouanna led those gathered in the Pledge of Allegiance. She said her husband became a citizen just a few weeks previously. The couple decided to become citizens rather than permanent alien residents so they could vote, something she personally feels strongly about.

“It’s your voice in the nation,” she said.

All in all, Dougherty gave the oath to 16 citizenship candidates representing 10 countries. Besides France, those countries included Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, China, Mongolia, Vietnam and Canada.

Like Bouanna, each of the new citizens could have remained in the country as resident aliens had they chosen to do so, Dougherty noted. Instead, each made the decision to become a naturalized citizen.

“Today is the beginning of your life as Americans,” Dougherty told the group, adding that their new country makes no distinction between naturally born citizens or naturalized citizens.

They are simply American citizens, she said.

“It was a great experience for me,” said fifth-grader Hayley Lynch, 11, adding she understands the new citizens went through a great deal of effort to become Americans.

“It makes me feel lucky to be an American,” Hayley said.

She agreed with Bouanna that voting is something people should do and not take for granted.

“I learned that it’s hard to become a citizen,” added Shami Kasireddy, 10 and also a fifth-grader.

She described the ceremony as “cool” and something she would remember for a long time.

There are numerous steps immigrants must go through before taking the oath and becoming citizens, according to information provided by Rummery. A candidate must have spent at least five years as a U.S. resident. They must be “a person of good and moral character” and demonstrate knowledge of U.S. government and history. And they must be willing and able to take the Oath of Allegiance.

Each year, the USCIS naturalizes approximately 680,000 immigrants, according to government statistics. In fiscal year 2010, 72 percent of all persons becoming naturalized citizens resided in one of 10 states, including Washington, which took in the 10th largest number of naturalized immigrants. California topped the list.

Also in fiscal year 2010, the top countries of origin for naturalized citizens were Mexico, India, the Philippines, China and Vietnam.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or www.tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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