On Tuesday, UC Berkeley’s Seismological Laboratory director Richard Allen, who is British, sat quietly next to his Polish wife, Kasia Allen, Cal’s assistant dean for external relations. Together, along with 75 immigrants from 33 other countries, they raised their right hands at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Homefront National Historical Park in Richmond and took the 140-word oath of allegiance that made them naturalized U.S. citizens.
The earthquake scholar said that the couple’s son had been born in the United States, and now “The fact that we’re all U.S. citizens together is important.”
“I’ve been wanting to vote for many years now,” added his wife. “I really don’t know anything about Polish politics anymore. I haven’t been there for 20 years. I feel it’s silly for me to have the right to vote in Poland and not to have the right where I actually live.”
The brief ceremony was put on by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After welcoming remarks by staffers from the National Park Service, Carolyn Muzyka, the Western Regional Director of USCIS, asked the candidates to stand once they heard their country called off in alphabetical order. One by one, each nominee rose and looked around for family and friends, until no one was left sitting. Once everyone was on their feet, the citizenship and immigration director led them in their oath of U.S. citizenship.
Muzyka, who has administered naturalization ceremonies in other national landmarks such as Yosemite Mount Rushmore, told the diverse crowd that events like these are her favorite part of the job. “It’s been a long journey for you, and for some a difficult journey to get here,” she said. “You’ve worked hard and met all the eligibility requirements. You’ve earned the right to be called United States citizens. For that you should be exceptionally proud.”
According to a USCIS fact sheet, the U.S. has welcomed 6.8 million new citizens over the past 10 years. In 2012 alone, 763,681 individuals were naturalized—up from 2003’s low of 456,063.
USCIS public affairs officer Sharon Rummery said to be eligible for naturalization one must have a green card, live in the U.S. for five years and submit the necessary application materials. “After about five months, someone from USCIS will call you in to his or her desk and sit you down and ask you six questions,” she said. “If you get all six of them right you’re done. But as long as you get 6 out of 10 right, you’re going to be a new citizen. Then after a few weeks you’ll be sworn in. It’s just a big dignified party.”
Rummery added the 10-question test comes from a 100-question study guide and that 40 percent of the questions are based on familiarity with the Constitution of the United States.
Former professional Canadian skateboarder Stu Jacobs, of Emeryville, said the test was stressful and that he just wanted to get the ceremony over with and get on with his day. “I was talking to my 13-year-old son about becoming a citizen the other day and I was like, ‘Yeah I’m going to become an American on Tuesday’ and he’s like, ‘Ugh, kind of thought you already were!’” Jacobs said.
“I’m really stoked for him,” Erin Jacobs said of her husband. “He said I’m not allowed to take any photos today, although I’m going to sneak some for his mom, because I know she’ll want them.”
After the ceremony Jacobs said jokingly he’d go straight back to work “just like Americans.”
“But we’re going to squeeze in a coffee really quick,” said his wife with a smile.