This week, we were proud to welcome more than 65 new U.S. citizens as our newest fellow Americans during special naturalization ceremonies held in Washington, D.C.
As America celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner, 15 candidates recited the Oath of Allegiance just feet away from the flag during a naturalization ceremony on June 17 at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson joined former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Dr. G. Wayne Clough, and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
These 15 candidates, symbolically representing the 15 stars and stripes on our Nation's flag, hailed from Australia, Canada, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, India, Iraq, Italy, Kenya, Lithuania, Mexico, the Philippines, Romania, Sierra Leone and South Korea.
After administering the Oath of Allegiance, Secretary Johnson congratulated the candidates by saying, "Each of you are Americans by choice, and you remind the rest of us of the value and importance of being a citizen of this great country."
During the ceremony, celebrated fashion designer Ralph Lauren was honored with the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal for his contributions to personal dedication to the preservation of national treasures as part of the 1998 campaign spearheaded by former first lady Hillary Clinton. Mr. Lauren's contributions ensure the flag will be available for future generations. Mrs. Clinton and Dr. G. Wayne Clough presented Mr. Lauren with the award.
On June 18, Secretary Johnson was honored to join First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama for a special naturalization ceremony at the National Archives. Standing just a few feet away from the Charters of Freedom -- the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights -- Secretary Johnson administered the Oath of Allegiance to 50 citizenship candidates.
"I am proud to be among the first to welcome you as my fellow Americans," Secretary Johnson said.
First Lady Michelle Obama congratulated the new citizens in the audience, and delivered remarks to the audience on the importance of understanding our national history in order to advance future generations of civic leadership. "In many ways, it is because of, not in spite of, our immigrant population that we grow stronger every single day," Mrs. Obama said.
She elaborated on the importance of immigration to our Nation, addressing the current issues plaguing our broken immigration system. She continued, saying: "Yet today, here in Washington, folks are still debating whether or not to fix our immigration system even though just about everyone agrees that it is broken. But I want you all to know that my husband has made this his top legislative priority, and he refuses to give up the fight. Because at the end of the day, this fight isn't just about abstract principles, it's about real people. People like you. People like us -- our fellow Americans."
Juan Cua Monroy is one example of these real people. A student at Northern Virginia Community College, Juan wholeheartedly pursued his goal of becoming an American citizen. And yesterday, accompanied by the First Lady and the Secretary of Homeland Security, he led his fellow citizens in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Juan, and the other 64 new U.S. citizens naturalized this week are "Americans-by-choice." As they took their Oath of Allegiance in the presence of our national treasures, their inspiring stories remind us that citizenship is something that none of us should ever take for granted; it is the highest privilege.