“You have come here by choice, but by the same token you are very diverse,” said Chrystal Daley, a mission support specialist at the Homeland Security Department’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on St. Thomas.
Daley read off the countries of origin for the 23 people. Most hailed from other Caribbean islands, with Dominica leading the list with five.
“It will afford me a lot of opportunities” she said, referring to the University of the Virgin Islands. “I’m going to start at UVI and begin my medical program.”
Rene, a St. Thomas resident, said she lived in the Virgin Islands for nearly six years.
James Bideau was one of three new citizens from St. Lucia.
“Freedom” was this St. Thomas resident’s response when asked why he decided to seek citizenship.
Andrea Donaie also hails from St. Lucia but now calls St. John home.
“I did it because I’m a hard-working person,” she said when asked why she sought U.S. citizenship.
Citing privacy concerns, Citizenship and Immigration declined to release the names of all the new citizens.
The naturalizationceremony was the first ever held on St. John. Linda Swacina, the director for Citizenship and Immigration Services Miami/Caribbean District, said after holding a similar event at Biscayne National Park in Florida, the agency realized it was feasible to do so at other national parks.
In her keynote address, Swacina told the new citizens that they were part of a greater whole.
“I’m proud to welcome you as the newest generation of American citizens,” she said.
Park Superintendent Mark Hardgrove spoke about the 12 million immigrants who entered the country through what is now Ellis Island National Monument in New York.
“The Virgin Islands also serves as a melting pot in welcoming new residents,” he said.
Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen told the 23 new citizens that they could move to France but they still wouldn’t be French, but that coming to America they could become Americans.
U.S. District Judge Curtis Gomez, who administered the citizenship oath, spoke about St. John’s quest for freedom in the 1733 slave rebellion. He noted that nearby Mary’s Point was where slaves gathered to head for Tortola.
They even heard from President Obama via a video.
“With the privilege of citizenship comes great responsibility,” he said.
The ceremony was held in conjunction with Flag Day, and the new citizens all received small U.S. flags to wave as they sang Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”
“I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free,” they sang.