CORONAVIRUS

On the brink of becoming naturalized citizens, residents must wait for COVID-19 cases to decline for their big event

Ceremonies postponed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services until at least May 3

New U.S. citizens Nga Le (left) and her husband, Tong Le (right), both from Vietnam get a photo taken with U.S. District
New U.S. citizens Nga Le (left) and her husband, Tong Le (right), both from Vietnam get a photo taken with U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa Magistrate Judge Mark Roberts as Tong Le receives his naturalization certificate during a naturalization ceremony at the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids in February 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — After Magalie Petit passed her naturalization interview and exam on March 5, she was eagerly looking forward to a ceremony later that month during which she would become a United States citizen.

But to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services canceled all naturalization ceremonies until at least May 3. Petit, 37, of Cedar Rapids, now awaits a rescheduled date.

Petit, who moved to the United States in 2014, said that while she was disappointed, she understands the decision.

“It’s no problem the ceremony is canceled. I think when the coronavirus is finished, the naturalization ceremony will happen,” said Petit, who is looking forward to sharing the day with family and friends.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will reschedule naturalization ceremonies after the threat of COVID-19 passes, according to its website.

At naturalization ceremonies, participants take an Oath of Allegiance and receive their Certificate of Naturalization. Applicants become U.S. citizens once they have taken the oath.

“After everyone says, ‘I do,’ the court says a congratulations, and there’s a big round of applause,” said Deputy Clerk Paul Coberly, who delivers the oath at naturalization ceremonies in Iowa.

Coberly said it’s sad the March 20 ceremony was put off. The naturalization ceremony scheduled for April 15 at the University of Northern Iowa also has been postponed.

“I can only imagine (the disappointment). For me personally it is sad,” Coberly said.

Naturalization ceremonies typically occur once a month, on the third Friday of the month, when an average of 30 residents become citizens.

The National Anthem is sung, remarks are made by people who became naturalized citizens as well as by state senators or a representative from state government.

Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly, who spoke at a March 2019 naturalization ceremony and who himself went through a ceremony in 1980, said postponing the ceremonies is a disappointment.

“I’m sure there is some disappointment (with ceremonies being rescheduled) because that is a day when people become legal residents of the U.S., and they are looking forward to the day they can become citizens,” AbouAssaly said.

Speaking at the ceremony last year was “very emotional” for him, AbouAssaly said.

AbouAssaly said he feels like an example to other immigrants, living proof that the United States is a place where they can achieve their dreams and potential.

“It meant a lot to me to be able to share my story with them,” AbouAssaly said. “Many of them have similar stories. I shared with them the honor and privilege of being citizens also comes with obligations and responsibilities to be engaged, to follow the rules and to contribute to making this a better society.”

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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