Remarks Of Senator Leahy At Burlington Naturalization Ceremony

Thank you for inviting me to be with you, on a day that none of us will ever forget.  Lives are changed, and rekindled, and given new meaning when our newest citizens join our communities.  We are all inspired as we reflect on the meaning, and the promise, of citizenship in the United States of America.

I especially thank Judge Crawford for convening this session of the Federal Court.  Ceremonies like this speak powerfully to the fact that we are, at our very core, a nation of immigrants.  Welcome, everyone.  We take great pride in your choice of Vermont as your home.  And I couldn’t be happier for you to join our ranks as American citizens. 

Some of you may have originally come to the United States through family, to pursue employment, or to go to school.  You may have left behind other family members and an established life in your home country, and you may have even fled war and other horrors.  Vermont is proud to have you all as part of the growing diversity of our state. No matter what religion you practice or political beliefs you may hold, you are welcome.

Americans are bound together by our shared ideals.  Among those ideals are tolerance and diversity.  They unite us as a nation; they make us stronger.  That is the message we should embrace — one of inclusion, not one of exclusion and division.  Over the years, each immigrant’s individual story has been woven into the American story.  Out of many, we have become one.  

I am so proud that Vermont continues to be a state that welcomes the resettlement of refugees.  We cannot close our eyes to the wrenching humanitarian crises that are enveloping so many parts of our world.  We are facing a refugee crisis larger even than the one we faced during World War II.  In the face of such staggering human suffering, the United States must continue showing the world that protecting our homeland is not incompatible with providing refuge to the vulnerable.  We have proven that being a nation of laws is not antithetical to being a country of compassion.  And we have demonstrated that our unmatched power is derived in part from how we treat the most powerless among us, especially children. 

I am proud to be descended from immigrants, but I should note that this is nothing unique.  More than any country on Earth, we are truly a nation molded and defined by immigrants. 

Both sides of my family immigrated to the United States.  My grandfathers were stone carvers – one came from Italy with his wife and settled in South Ryegate, Vermont.  The other, of Irish descent, lived in Washington County, where his ancestors settled before him.  Neither would have imagined that his grandson one day would serve in the United States Senate.  It just goes to show you that in this great country, anything is possible. When you all pursue your dreams you enrich the American dream itself.

Earning your citizenship is a great accomplishment, and one for which I congratulate you all.  I challenge you to meet the responsibilities that come with it.  Participate in your government at all levels – your community, your state, and your federal governments.  Exercise your newly earned right to vote – our identity as a government of, by, and for the people depends upon your engagement.  America’s rich tradition of constitutional rights and civic engagement sets it apart from so many other nations, and may be one of the key reasons you started on the path to citizenship.

Just this week we saw the power of citizen engagement.  Children today would still be forcibly separated from their parents at the border, en masse, if not for the collective voices of concerned Americans who demanded a change.  That is because the power, in the United States, resides with the people.  Someone recently asked if America was a country with a heart, or only a spleen.  The resounding answer is that this good and great nation has a great heart, and we are grounded in noble ideals.

Regardless of politics, our greatest responsibility as Americans is to defend each other’s essential freedoms, which are the legacy of each American: the right to speech, the right to organize around causes they believe in, to run for office, to vote, and to practice our religious beliefs.  I hope that you will exercise and enjoy these rights to the fullest, as so many Americans have, before you.

I am honored to be with you on this special day.  We are proud to welcome you as citizens of this great and good land.  Congratulations, best wishes to you in your journeys ahead, and welcome home.

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