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San Diegans become American citizens during drive-through naturalization ceremony in Point Loma

Drive thru Naturalization Ceremony
Laith Salman (in the flag-draped car) takes the Oath of Allegiance from immigration services officer Ken Rho-Renshaw during a drive-through naturalization ceremony held by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency on June 24 at the Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma. Ceremonies had been postponed in San Diego because of the coronavirus pandemic.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Mohsin Javed was sworn in as an American citizen while sitting in his car in the parking lot of the Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma.

Javed, an information technology worker who was born in Pakistan and lives in San Diego, had been waiting for that moment for 10 years.

“I’m really proud to be an American now,” he said before raising his right hand to pledge allegiance to the United States from his driver’s seat. “I’m really excited that now I can vote.”

More than 150 people from 42 countries were naturalized in an unusual drive-through ceremony June 24 held by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency.

Naturalization ceremonies are usually mass events attended by hundreds of new citizens and their family members. Often there are speeches welcoming the new citizens.

Such ceremonies became a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic, with ceremonies in San Diego planned for March 18 through June 4 postponed.

People who had waited months, even years, to become naturalized citizens worried that COVID-19 would interfere with that and impede their ability to vote in November.

Drive thru Naturalization Ceremony
Ana Maria Schule (foreground in car) raises her right hand and takes the Oath of Allegiance during a drive-through naturalization ceremony June 24 at the Cabrillo National Monument.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Madeline Kristoff, a field office director for USCIS, said more than 2,740 people whose ceremonies were postponed will be sworn in through the end of June.

Dozens of vehicles drove to the monument’s parking lot on June 24 and people were asked health screening questions. Then the cars pulled into another station, where agents inspected paperwork, and then they drove to another section, where officers recited the citizenship oath for multiple cars at once.

People held up their right hands and then turned in their green cards. It took a few minutes; everyone stayed in vehicles.

“In a way it’s a little more personal,” Kristoff said, adding that many people brought families in their cars to be part of the process.

Jose Carlos Magos was joined by his wife, granddaughter and a friend in a minivan as Magos was sworn in as a new citizen.

“You come to the United States with a belief that you’ll make a better life for yourself and work hard,” he said.

“This is a dream come true for me personally. I waited many years. I’m filled with happiness and gratitude.”

Magos, who was born in Guatemala, has lived in the United States for more than 30 years and works in the restaurant industry.

He said becoming a citizen means he can visit his family in Guatemala and legally return to the United States. Most importantly, he said, he can vote in the November election.

“People come from many parts of the world, and we want to give back in some way to what this country gives us,” Magos said.

After the pledge, he said, his family planned a small celebration at home but he hoped to have a larger one when it’s safe to do so.

He said he worried the pandemic would delay the ceremony further but was happy to get a phone call the day before the ceremony saying he would be sworn in.

Grant Madden, who came to the United States from Australia 15 years ago and applied for citizenship in September, rented a red 2020 Chevrolet Camaro convertible for the ceremony.

He said he had to become an American in an American car.

“While it’s a drive-through, it’s about as American as it can get,” he said.


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