New U.S. citizens welcomed at Immigrants Assistance Center in New Bedford

New U.S. citizens welcomed at Immigrants Assistance Center in New Bedford

More than 20 new citizens naturalized at emotional South End ceremony

Zara Ahmed, 3, pays close attention Friday during a naturalization ceremony for more than 20 new U.S. citizens, who were sworn in at the Immigrants' Assistance Center on Crapo Street. Standing behind Zara, not pictured, is her father, Fall River resident Faruk Ahmed, a native of Bangladesh who became a U.S. citizen Friday after moving to the U.S. in 2009. Seated is New Bedford resident Pedro Varela, 90, a Cape Verde native who also became a U.S. citizen Friday. MIKE LAWRENCE / THE STANDARD-TIMES / SCMG
Zara Ahmed, 3, pays close attention Friday during a naturalization ceremony for more than 20 new U.S. citizens, who were sworn in at the Immigrants’ Assistance Center on Crapo Street. Standing behind Zara, not pictured, is her father, Fall River resident Faruk Ahmed, a native of Bangladesh who became a U.S. citizen Friday after moving to the U.S. in 2009. Seated is New Bedford resident Pedro Varela, 90, a Cape Verde native who also became a U.S. citizen Friday. MIKE LAWRENCE / THE STANDARD-TIMES / SCMG

NEW BEDFORD — Superior Court Judge Robert J. Kane said that every time he has the privilege of speaking to new U.S. citizens, such as at Friday morning’s naturalization ceremony in the South End, he feels “a surge of optimism.”

Kane told more than 20 new Americans sworn in at the Immigrants’ Assistance Center on Crapo Street, where friends and family members snapped photos and wiped away tears during an emotional ceremony, that the reason for his optimism was that he felt “the American destiny is assured,” as the next wave of immigrants officially joined a nation born of them.

“Today, we welcome you,” Kane told the new citizens, who came to the U.S. from countries including Bangladesh, Haiti, Cape Verde, Portugal and others.

“You bring to this nation your courage, your will, (and) your great faith in the American dream,” Kane added. “You have now enrolled in the great commitment to serve our nation.”

City resident Pedro Varela, 90, sat quietly in a wheelchair during the ceremony, with a constant smile on his face and his citizenship certificate on his lap. Family members said he has lived in the U.S. for 22 years, after emigrating from Cape Verde.

Fall River resident Faruk Ahmed attended the ceremony with his wife, Sultana Ahmed, and their daughter Zara, 3. Faruk Ahmed said he was born in Sylhet, Bangladesh — a city in the northwestern corner of that country, which lies between India and Myanmar on the Bay of Bengal — and has lived in the U.S. since 2009. An inventory coordinator for Blount Fine Foods, Ahmed said he applied for citizenship in April and took the civics test in August.

“I’m so happy,” he said simply, as Zara held a small bouquet of flowers.

Every new citizen Friday received a similar bouquet, with ribbons in red, white and blue. The flowers were brought to the ceremony by Maria Tomasia, chairperson of New Bedford’s board of election commissioners. Also attending Friday’s ceremony were Mayor Jon Mitchell; state Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford; New Bedford Public Schools Superintendent Pia Durkin; and other civic leaders.

“The immigrant experience in America is the American experience,” Mitchell said, noting that his grandfather emigrated to the U.S. with a third-grade education, to work in the fishing industry.

Similar stories can be told in countless American families, Mitchell said, particularly in New Bedford, which the mayor called, “a poignant example of the American melting pot.”

New Bedford’s melting pot is growing dramatically. Helena DaSilva Hughes, executive director of the Immigrants’ Assistance Center since 1996, said the number of citizenship applications recently has risen from about 150 a year to more than 300.

“We’re filling out applications every day,” DaSilva Hughes said.

A significant reason for the “tremendous increase,” she said, is the state of American politics, and the presidential race. DaSilva Hughes said “the Trump effect” has many immigrants uncertain about their future in the country and, as a result, “becoming U.S. citizens out of fear.”

In an immigration speech in Arizona on Aug. 31, GOP candidate Donald Trump outlined plans for broad expansion of U.S. border control systems and deportation policies targeting at least 5 million undocumented immigrants. About 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the U.S., total, according to The Washington Post and other media outlets.
Marc Santos, Superior Court clerk of courts, said Friday that the court could host another naturalization ceremony in New Bedford before the end of the year. DaSilva Hughes said the immigrants’ center also is planning another ceremony, potentially in December.

Friday’s event was part of annual Constitution Day and Citizenship Day celebrations by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The federal agency will welcome more than 38,000 new citizens during 240 ceremonies in a weeklong observance of Constitution Week, through Sept. 24, a USCIS press release said.

This story by Mike Lawrence first appeared in the New Bedford Standard Times on 09/17/2016 – HERE

Follow Mike Lawrence on Twitter @MikeLawrenceSCT

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