Aisha Bashir, who is Somali, raised her right hand on Wednesday and planted her feet more firmly in the United States.
Bashir, 20, along with 68 other immigrants from 20 countries, stood in the federal courthouse in St. Paul to take the oath and become citizens of the United States. Earlier in the day, 71 immigrants from 30 countries took the same oath, just days after President Donald Trump issued an executive order that closes the door to refugees and immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries.
“I heard about that ban,” Bashir said. Her homeland is included in Trump’s executive order — a 90-day ban on people entering the U.S. from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya or Somalia. Admissions of new refugees from all countries are suspended for 120 days. Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely.
“He can do what he wants. He’s the president,” Bashir said. “I’m a citizen now and he can’t do anything to me right now. I don’t have to be scared.”
That may not be the case for some in her homeland who want to live in the United States. “I feel bad” about that, she said.
Like Bashir, many who took the oath Wednesday had lived in the U.S. for years — some for more than 20. For many, becoming a citizen is about being responsible to the country that gave them opportunities. For others, like 28-year-old Meng Thao who came from Laos when he was 1 year old, it is where they grew up. “It pretty much feels like my country,” he said.
Huda Mohammed, 20, and her sister, Hayat, 22, arrived from Ethiopia five years ago, joining their father, who left their homeland 19 years ago for political reasons. Wearing hijabs sometimes invites stares from strangers, she said. “People sometimes judge me for what I wear.”
With Trump’s immigrant ban in place, Mohammed worries about getting her mother from Ethiopia to the United States. “They might ban [Ethiopia] too,” she said. “I worry.”
Others taking the oath quickly shied away from talking about the ban or politics. Not Joseph Ketter, who proudly said he was a Republican and Trump supporter. The president’s executive order on immigrants and refugees makes sense, he said.
“We can’t open the door to everyone,” Ketter said, sitting tall in a navy blue suit with a flag pin in his lapel. “You don’t open the door to your home to just anyone.”
Ketter, 41, came to the U.S. from Liberia five years ago because he wanted to learn English. He stayed for the opportunities.
“I knew I could become whatever I wanted to be,” he said, explaining he hopes to become an electrical engineer. “I want to give back to the country that gave me everything that I have right now. … Being a citizen is very important because you have to be responsible to the land you live in.”
For Meena Jambulingam, a native of India, that responsibility means taking to the streets to protest Trump. Wearing her “nasty woman” T-shirt and red-white-and-blue scarf, she stood in line to take a flag-waving photo with U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright, who delivered the oath and talked about the rich diversity immigrants bring to the country.
“I wish we heard more of that coming from the White House,” said Jambulingam, who went to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., the day after Trump was inaugurated.
Now that she’s a citizen, she plans to get more involved. And like many others at Wednesday’s ceremony, citizenship gives them more of a voice.
Judy Stuthman with the League of Women Voters was there to walk them through a voter registration application. Stuthman has attended these ceremonies for more than 20 years and never tires of it. “It’s one of the most important days of these people’s lives.”
When Stuthman looks at the crowd, she can’t help but be overwhelmed. “It brings me to tears,” she said. “They want to become Americans.
“They did it for their kids,” she said. “They want their kids to have a better life.”
Generation after generation of immigrants, the story is the same, she said.
“They see what democracy is,” she said. “And they want that.”