Did you know that September 17 was National Constitution and Citizenship Day? 226 years ago on that date, the US Constitution was signed in Philadelphia, creating the foundation for a system of government still in place today.
I celebrated Citizenship Day in New York at an event organized by the NALEO Education Fund to recognize the efforts of local organizations and volunteers who assist immigrants to become US citizens. CWS works alongside NALEO on naturalization and citizenship activities as part of the New Americans Campaign, by providing legal services to permanent residents applying for naturalization.
As I listened to the stories of new Americans and local volunteers, I was struck by how special it is to live in a country that actively promotes ways for newcomers to become part of the national fabric. In many parts of the world where CWS works, we see how people displaced by war, persecution and poverty struggle to make new lives for themselves. They may be declared illegal by their hosts; or they may receive protection, but only temporarily, without a mechanism to become permanent residents. Some may become residents but never enjoy a path to citizenship, nor the opportunity to participate in public life that citizenship provides.
I feel lucky to live in a place where this opportunity does exist, and proud to work for an organization that assists others to access it. My own grandparents and great-grandparents benefited from this opportunity, fleeing from poverty and persecution in their home countries to build new lives in the US. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on DOMA, I hope that my partner of 11 years will one day benefit from this same opportunity. And when (not if, but when!) we pass a humane immigration reform bill, millions of other men, women and children will one day be in a position to benefit from this opportunity — and, in turn, to continue making social, economic and cultural contributions that benefit all Americans.
For me, this reflects the magic of the US constitution and the reason it has endured for more than two centuries as the basis of the American system. E pluribus unum – from many, we can become one.
Happy Citizenship Day!
Andrew Fuys is Associate Director for International Programs with CWS in New York, where he moonlights as a volunteer with the CWS immigration legal services team.