SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everybody. It’s great to see everyone here on the most special of days. And I want to thank, first of all, the U.S. attorney, for her wonderful words, but also her wonderful work for this community. And thank you, as well, for welcoming us to Philadelphia.
So 235 years ago, in a hall about a half mile from where we are this afternoon, a group of farmers, scholars, statesmen launched an unprecedented experiment in democracy.
By 1787, as a leading port city, Philadelphia already reflected the incredibly rich tapestry of immigrants: Dutch and German settlers escaping religious persecution; British, Scottish, Irish workers seeking new opportunities in overseas trade. In the coming centuries, they’d be joined by many others: Cuban and Chinese in the 19th century; Italian, Polish, Filipino, Russian at the start of the 20th; Greek, Korean, Japanese in the years after World War II; and, in recent decades, people from Vietnam and Haiti, among many others.
This city, Philadelphia, like America as a whole, has always been built and enriched by immigrants. Today we mark another chapter in that proud history, as we welcome you as fellow citizens to the democracy that we share. This is, I know, for each of you – and I have to tell you, for me – a joyous moment, one we won’t soon forget and I won’t forget, and I’m just grateful to be a part of it with you.
We’re able to conduct today’s naturalization ceremony in this remarkable building, the renovated Robert Nelson Cornelius Nix, Sr. Federal Building. And it happens to be the new site of our Philadelphia Passport Agency, and that’s the result of incredibly hard work by many of the people who are in this room and outside of it.
So to everyone who spent a few years working on this project, from conception to construction – the architects, the designers, the conservationists, the project managers, so many others: thank you, thank you, thank you.
And we’re joined by several elected leaders from across the city, across the tri-state area, members of Congress, friends and colleagues: thank you for being part of this today.
Let me just say as well a special thanks to a couple of people. Dan Alessandrini and Bridget Bielicki, and the State Department’s entire cultural – Consular Affairs team in Philadelphia. Because of your work, this facility will soon be able to process more than 150,000 passports every year. And joining in this effort are individuals, people like Julia Nixon, who has processed passports in Philadelphia for nearly four decades – starting at a time when she was required to physically paste the photographs inside passports with glue. Things have changed just a little bit since then. (Laughter.) Julia, thank you for your service. (Applause.) Thank you.
I want to take advantage of this moment just to do a little further advertising because the State Department is also undertaking other initiatives – redesigning our passports with stronger security features to deter fraud; making our policies more inclusive so that all people can travel with documents that truly reflect their identities.
We’re joined by several family members, as well, of Representative Nix, after whom this facility is named. The son of a former slave, he was the first black person to be elected to represent the city of Philadelphia in Congress; he served the city’s residents from 1956 to 1979. During that time, he served on multiple committees, including Post Office and Civil Service Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. So this really connects that beautifully because this facility, which began as a post office connecting Americans to each other as well as to the wider world, now a Passport Agency connecting Americans to the world around them.
Congressman Nix, as a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, pushed for passage of the landmark legislation on civil rights, including introducing a measure to end racial discrimination in the Armed Forces, and later supporting key voting rights legislation. Across each of these efforts, he tried to make a country that hadn’t always treated him equally a little bit more equal.
To the Nix family here today – grandsons Robert Nix III, Michael, Tony, great grandson Jalen, as well as their own families: we’re honored to have you join us today, join us in recognizing and appreciating the extraordinary legacy of Congressman Nix, his contributions not just to this city, but to our country. Thank you for being here. (Applause.)
Through his actions, Representative Nix worked to make sure that the first three words of our Constitution – a phrase that I suspect everyone in this group knows pretty well by now from your naturalization test – “We the People” – extended their promise to more Americans. And throughout his life, he dedicated himself to the idea that the story of America is one of growth, of inclusion, of constant renewal from within.
Each and every one of you here today embodies that renewal. This is what makes our country strong. You arrived in America from almost every corner of the world, vastly different backgrounds, different perspectives, different journeys.
As a journalist in Belarus, Hanna, who’s here with us today, worked with activists to cover human rights violations that were happening in Belarus. She was persecuted for her work; she escaped to the United States. Today, she and her husband, a registered nurse from Macedonia, are proud homeowners in Delaware next door.
Jimmy, trained as a civil engineer in Honduras, came to the United States when the company that he was working for transferred him here to Philadelphia. His work was so indispensable that the company eventually petitioned for him to stay in the United States. He now lives in Delaware with his wife, Melissa, who teaches Spanish at a private school.
Sung came to the United States to attend graduate school, after which he planned to return home to South Korea to become a software engineer. Along the way, he fell in love with another immigrant: his future wife, who came from China to study in the United States. They now live with their two children, ages nine and five, just outside of Philadelphia.
The urge to do better for yourself, to do better for your family, to be part of something bigger than any one person or family, that’s something that shaped my life as well.
My grandfather, my father’s father, Maurice Blinken, found refuge in America after fleeing pogroms at the turn of the last century in Russia.
My stepmother, Vera Blinken, found refuge in America after fleeing the communists in her native Hungary.
And my late stepfather, Samuel Pisar, ultimately found a home in America after enduring the horrors of the Holocaust. He was liberated from concentration camps by an American GI. He repaid the gift by dedicating his own life to advocating for human rights, and trying to find common ground among former adversaries.
In 1961, he became a citizen of the United States, and here’s what he used to say to me and to other members of our family. “You,” pointing to me, “you are an American by happy accident of birth. I am an American by choice.”
Each of you has made that same choice. And with that decision comes a responsibility borne by every generation of immigrants that have come before you: that of being a citizen, of contributing your ideas, your talent, your energy to your communities. You are now partners in the great unfinished work of making this country better for more of its people – especially those who will come after you.
Throughout our nation’s history, we have been enriched time and again by the contributions of immigrants and their children.
They influence everything from the art that expands our horizons, to the scientific advancements that move us forward, to the food that we enjoy every single day. In fact, earlier today we made a pit stop by Federal Donuts – (laughter) – just a few blocks away. I got a chance to sample a few of the chef’s remarkable achievements – I even helped to make one – influenced in his case by his Israeli background. Another powerful example of our melting pot.
Immigrants, as we know, have launched world-renowned companies from Apple to Google, AT&T and Pfizer. They’ve been a key source of our national competitiveness. I was in Silicon Valley just a couple of days ago. More than half of the billion-dollar companies produced in Silicon Valley were founded by an immigrant.
In my own department, the State Department, those with immigrant roots are leading vital parts of our foreign policy every single day.
Uzra Zeya, whose family immigrated from India to the United States in the 1960s. She now helps uphold human rights around the world as our Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.
Julieta Noyes, whose parents fled repression in Cuba. She now helps support persecuted and vulnerable people around the world as our Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
And Sarah Majzoub, whose parents immigrated from Lebanon, established a successful architectural firm in the United States. She’s now one of my closest aides in my office; she’s a crucial part of making sure that I’m as well-prepared as I can be each and every day.
Simply put, we could not do American diplomacy without them and without so many other colleagues, who started someplace else and are now here as Americans. And we wouldn’t want to. Our foreign policy is stronger, it’s more effective, because of their service. We come from the most diverse country on Earth. We’re operating in a world that’s incredibly diverse. By definition, this diversity is the source of our strength, and if we’re not making full use of it, we’re shortchanging ourselves. So we’re working every day to make sure that we are making full use of our diversity.
Here at this Passport Agency in Philadelphia, there’s a mural called The Seeker, by Philadelphia-based artist Michelle Angela Ortiz, who we’re fortunate to have with us today. And I saw her a little bit earlier.
It depicts three large circles. I hope you get a chance to see it. The first two circles show a host of memories: a girl reconnecting with her grandmother in Korea; a wedding in Jamaica; postcards from Panama, among many others.
And then the third circle shows a young woman, “the seeker,” who’s looking at these memories – which reflect a tiny sampling of the many experiences that the immigrants carry with them from a past land – looking at these memories as she forges her path in the United States. That’s an experience that binds so many of us together in this country. Here – as the paper that she’s holding in her hands reads – we become “out of many, one.”
So I hope that you too carry your past with pride, that you share your experiences from your home countries with your new communities. The diverse tapestry of this country is enriched by these perspectives, these experiences, by your citizenship, by your very being.
So finally and simply put, I want to say thank you. Thank you for choosing us. Thank you for making that choice. On behalf of the American people, let me be one of the first lucky people to say: Welcome home, my fellow Americans.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
MR SPALTER: All right, good afternoon.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
MR SPALTER: Twenty-four candidates from 17 countries came here today to pledge allegiance to the United States of America. Candidates, I will now call the names of your country of nationality. I ask that you please stand and remain standing until all countries have been called.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Bhutan?
MR SPALTER: Bhutan. There you go.
The Philippines. (Applause.)
South Korea. (Applause.)
Trinidad and Tobago. (Applause.)
And Uzbekistan. (Applause.)
Good afternoon, Secretary Blinken. On behalf of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, it is my pleasure to present these 24 candidates for naturalization. Each has been personally examined under oath by a designated officer. Each has demonstrated an understanding of the English language, unless exempt, and knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of history and principles and the form of government of the United States. Each has been found to be a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States. The investigations of the government have been completed in their cases, and each has been found to meet all requirements under the law to be naturalized.
Therefore, Secretary Blinken, on behalf of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, I respectfully ask that you administer the oath of allegiance, thereby conferring upon these present applicants citizenship of the United States.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So please raise your right hand and repeat after me:
(The oath was administered.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Congratulations.