The United States gained 55 new citizens on Monday.
The U.S. District Court and the Mount Rushmore Society held a naturalization ceremony at Mount Rushmore where the new citizens from 29 countries took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and received citizenship certificates. The last naturalization ceremony at Mount Rushmore was in 2018.
New citizens were also welcomed to the podium to share their names and countries of origin. Several shouted “God bless America” before thrusting their certificates in the air triumphantly.
U.S. District Court Judge Jeffery Viken presided over the ceremony and made the proclamation of citizenship. The Dakota Choral Union performed “The Star Spangled Banner” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” after the citizenship presentation.
“It is my absolute honor and privilege to declare each and every one of you citizens of the United States of America. Welcome home,” Viken said after U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Daneta Wollmann administered the oath of allegiance. “You’re joining 332 million of your countrymen and women and you are weaving your lives into the tapestry of the United States of America.”
“As you do this, please know that you are enriching our society. We ask you to share your strengths, your wisdom, your stories, your songs, your dances and your traditions with us. Because in diversity, we are strong,” he said.
Bishop Boaz Joseph, his wife, Ruth, and son Leo of Pakistan became citizens together. The Josephs moved to Rapid City almost six years ago from Sri Lanka after fleeing religious persecution.
“I love America because I found freedom here,” Ruth Joseph said. “I like very much America because the American government protects the people’s freedoms.”
The Josephs left Pakistan and escaped to Sri Lanka because the Taliban was trying to kill them for their Christian beliefs. After connecting with a local pastor online, U.S. Sen. John Thune’s office reached out to the Josephs and offered them asylum in South Dakota.
Since moving to Rapid City in late 2015, Boaz Joseph started his own ministry, Bishop Joseph Ministry International, and more recently, his own business, Joseph Global Imports.
Boaz Joseph said he felt privileged to be an American citizen.
“[Citizens] have more freedom and opportunities. Whatever you have desires and dreams [to do], you can accomplish them [here],” Boaz Joseph told the Journal.
Camille Jane Erickson, a dental specialist with the South Dakota National Guard’s Medical Command Unit, was also conferred citizenship Monday morning. Erickson, who is from the Philippines, has been in the United States for nearly six years.
She joined the military to serve and to give back to the country that gave her and her family so many opportunities. She finally applied for citizenship because she felt it was time: she was enlisted in the armed forces and married an American citizen. She waited until she was finished her training so she could feel like she earned it.
“It’s overwhelming, but it feels amazing, it feels great to finally become a citizen. I’m very proud of it,” Erickson said.
Fatima Ismail Jumma Adam of Sudan also became a citizen. She has been in the United States for five years. Her sister Sadia, who became a U.S. citizen in 2016, came to the ceremony to support her. They left their home country because of crime.
Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalized approximately 625,000 people in fiscal year 2020. District 32 Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services David Douglas congratulated the 55 new citizens on their new status.
“We honor and appreciate the diversity that combine into the American people and we recognize that we are stronger together. Thank you for your emotional investment in this country and your commitment to this country,” Douglas said.
Mount Rushmore Society President Aaron Galloway said the new citizens’ presence at the monument enhanced its purpose as the “shrine of democracy.”
“You are writing the next chapters to our collective American history,” Galloway said. “Thank you for wanting to be a part of the fabric of our nation, becoming a part of its history, working and wanting it for yourselves, your families and your fellow citizens. We are happy, humbled and excited to be here with you.”
Before the ceremony ended, Viken acknowledged the first Americans were Native Americans, though they did not receive U.S. citizenship until 1924. Viken reminded the audience to respect Native American heritage and that Mount Rushmore was built on sacred Indigenous land.
“You’ve joined them now, the original people of this place, as citizens of the United States,” Viken said.
Following the ceremony, Pennington County Auditor Cindy Mohler was available to register any eligible citizen to vote.
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