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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

World Refugee Day


Remarks
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
June 21, 2012

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Participating Officials:

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns
Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne C. Richard
Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Alejandro Mayorkas
Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jane Holl Lute
Under Secretary of State, Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Maria Otero
United Nations High Commission for Refugees Goodwill Envoy Khaled Hosseini
Deputy National Security Advisor to the President Denis McDonough 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD: Good afternoon, everyone. First of all, I would like to welcome everyone to the Ben Franklin Room today, including the Czech ambassador and other members of the diplomatic corps on behalf of the U.S. Department of State and, I am pleased to say, on behalf of our collaborators in this event, the Department of Homeland Security. Thank you all for joining is here to mark a very special occasion.

Welcoming refugees is a core part of who we are as a nation. It reflects our national values. And every year at this time, the Department of State observes World Refugee Day. This year, we are very pleased to be hosting a naturalization ceremony. Nineteen of you entered the United States and entered this room as refugees. You will leave this room as American citizens. Welcome to you, your families, and our other honored guests.

To begin our ceremony, I would like to ask you all to rise for the presentation of colors and our National Anthem. Today, the anthem will be sung by Shayla Moulton. Shayla is an immigration officer at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

(Colors are presented and National Anthem is sung.)

Thank you. Please be seated. And let’s have a round of applause for Shayla Moulton. (Applause.) I don't know what we would have done if Shayla had gotten ill today, because I would not have been able to pull that off. (Laughter.)

It is an honor now to introduce our Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. Deputy Secretary Burns is our top career diplomat. His distinguished 30-year career includes service as Ambassador to Russia and Jordan, as Under Secretary, Assistant Secretary, and Executive Secretary of the State Department and as assistant to the President and senior director at the National Security Council. I first got to know Bill and his wife, Lisa Carty in the 1990s. Lisa actually served twice in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, so I know that Bill understands the plight of refugees around the world, including those now fleeing the violence in Syria. He strongly supports our efforts to assist them.

As host of today’s event, Deputy Secretary Burns will now deliver keynote remarks. (Applause.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you very much. And it is a singular honor for us at the Department of State to host this naturalization ceremony for the 19 courageous individuals from across the globe joining us today. Each of you has a unique life story and each of you has traveled a long road, literally and figuratively, to get here. But your journey captures the essence of the American experience.

I’m also pleased to welcome so many friends from the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the White House, and the United Nations, including Under Secretary Otero, Assistant Secretary Richard, Deputy Secretary Lute, Director Mayorkas, Deputy National Security Advisor McDonough, and UNHCR Goodwill Envoy Khaled Hosseini. We are all honored to share this day and this country and its promise with those who will soon become the newest Americans.

I truly cannot think of a better way to commemorate World Refugee Day. In addition to welcoming our newest citizens, today we are calling attention to the plight of over 15 million refugees around the world, uprooted from their homes, searching for a way to renew their lives. Their cause is not at its core political or diplomatic. It is human. And it is championed by generous and compassionate citizens and governments around the world. Today, we celebrate their efforts and redouble our own.

Although this is World Refugee Day, it means something special to the American people. Centuries before the world defined what it means to be a refugee, America was already a refuge. We welcomed to our shores men, women, and children fleeing hunger, poverty, persecution, and desperation, from the Irish potato famine and the Russian pogroms of the 19th century to conflict and instability in East Africa today. Our culture and our character is defined by their contributions, by the Americans they became. It is how we became who we are.

That presents a point of pride, but also a moral challenge. And so we work with international partners to coordinate and strengthen relief response, and we advocate on behalf of displaced peoples to ensure that those who have lost their homes can retain their well-being and their dignity. We also supplement diplomacy with financial assistance as the world’s largest single donor to refugee relief efforts. We provided UNHCR with over $690 million in funding last year, part of a larger assistance package aimed at helping refugees and conflict victims that totaled more than $1.8 billion in 2011.

Many of the people we assist all over the world are able to return to their homes, but some resettle in other countries. You joined the ranks of the many millions of other refugees who have resettled in the United States over the past century alone. And you are now following in the footsteps of great Americans, like Albert Einstein, Madeleine Albright, and Henry Kissinger, who came here as refugees and made our country stronger by joining our nation as citizens.

None of you were born American; you chose this after being forced on the difficult path of exile and after enduring many sacrifices and hardships to get to this day. Though each of your experiences is unique, you share your motivations for becoming American with millions of immigrants over the centuries. You are here because of the promise of fundamental freedoms and opportunity – or, as one of you eloquently told us, “a new beginning, a new life, and a new hope.”

Finally, we also pay tribute to two of our distinguished guests here today who began new lives as Americans and went on to touch the lives of millions of people around the world.

My friend and colleague Maria Otero left her home in Bolivia and immigrated to this country when she was just twelve years old. Her first job in the United States was at a supermarket here in Washington. She went on to become a leader in microfinance and women’s empowerment programs worldwide. And we are all deeply fortunate that she then joined us here at the State Department, where, as Under Secretary, she now champions the universal human rights of people all over the world, including refugees.

A refugee himself, Khaled Hosseini turned his childhood experiences, spanning from Afghanistan to California, into The Kite Runner, a book that brought home the refugee experience and life in Afghanistan to many millions of readers and moviegoers. It’s a story that spans different worlds and captures the inevitable struggle to move forward with life in a new country while maintaining roots in an old one. In it, he describes the process of bringing a boy from Afghanistan to America as “lifting him from the certainty of turmoil and dropping him in a turmoil of uncertainty.”

No doubt that’s a description that applies to many of you here today. America is not easy, and there are no guarantees of success here. But you have support, from our government, from Diaspora communities, and from each other. You have a chance to make whatever life you choose here. And just like so many that have come before you, I have every confidence you will seize that opportunity and do remarkable things for yourselves, for your families, and for your new country. We are proud to call you fellow Americans. Congratulations, and I wish you every good fortune in the years ahead.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD: Thank you, Deputy Secretary. I will now turn the floor over to Alejandro Mayorkas, a former Cuban refugee and now the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He is a very valuable colleague. He will lead us through the call of countries and presentation of candidates for citizenship.

Ale. (Applause.)

MR. MAYORKAS: Thank you very much, and I think it is fair to say that I was not greeted with such elegance and beauty when I was naturalized in – (laughter) – 1972. I do want, if I can, just to say that there are many people in this room who have joined public service to make the lives of others better, to ensure that people can live free of fear of persecution, who can build on their hopes and dreams for a better life – our colleagues from the Department of State, Denis McDonough, the Deputy National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, and my wonderful colleagues from Refugee, Asylum and International Operations Directorate and other parts of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Candidates for citizenship, if you would please rise when I identify your country of origin and remain standing until you are administered the Oath of Allegiance.

Afghanistan, if you would please rise and remain standing. Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ethiopia. Iran. Laos. Pakistan. Sierra Leone. Thailand. And Vietnam.

I would like to invite Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Jane Holl Lute to the podium to administer the Oath of Allegiance. As the second-highest official and chief operating officer in the Department of Homeland Security, Deputy Secretary Lute has over 30 years of military and senior executive experience in the United States Government, and has been integral to U.S. efforts to prevent and resolve international crises. Deputy Secretary Lute, I present to you 19 candidates for naturalization, all of whom have been interviewed by an officer of the service and found to be eligible for naturalization. Please administer the Oath of Allegiance, thereby admitting them to United States citizenship.

DEPUTY SECRETARY LUTE: Thank you, Ale. I wish you all could see their faces. Thank you also to Deputy Secretary Bill Burns, Denis McDonough, and our colleagues at the State Department who play such a crucial role in fulfilling the humanitarian obligations of the United States. It’s fitting, and for me it’s extraordinary, to be holding this special ceremony in honor of World Refugee Day in a building where dedicated people work tirelessly every day to ensure that the United States continues to welcome more refugees than any other country in the world. Today’s ceremony honors millions of men, women, and children worldwide, people like you who are forced to flee their home countries due to persecution or fear of future harm.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is now my privilege to administer the Oath of Allegiance to the candidates for naturalization assembled here today. Candidates for citizenship, please raise your right hand and repeat after me.

(The Oath is administered.)

Congratulations. (Applause.) Please be seated.

Okay, now you got to tell me, did you ever in your life think you would be here? I was born in New Jersey. I never thought I would be here. (Laughter.) English was not my mother’s first language. My grandparents came to this country. Welcome home. To all of you, welcome home. And those of you with little ones, please, let freedom sing. (Laughter.)

I’m honored to be the first person to recognize you as my fellow Americans. Like so many others, each of you has traveled a long and difficult path to be where you are today. Maybe some of you never imagined that one day your journey would lead you to the United States of America, to the Armed Forces of the United States of America. Hoo-ah. And here you are. Here you are.

By becoming citizens today, you’ve demonstrated just how much you’ve embraced your new country. We’re all so very proud of what you’ve achieved. As citizens, you now have all the rights and freedoms that our Constitution guarantees. You have earned these rights. And I encourage you, I urge you, to take full advantage of them. Use your voice to make a difference in your community. Vote, volunteer, participate, become engaged in issues that are important to you and to your family. Work to ensure that American society reflects who you are and what you think because this country stands to benefit. We are so enriched by your presence, your involvement, your ideas, and your perspective. This is an important milestone for you. It’s the end of one journey, yes. But it’s also the beginning of another, your journey as Americans.

The United States has always benefited from the contribution of immigrants and naturalized citizens. And so it is your opportunity to add to that rich heritage and tradition. Every day when I go home, my youngest daughter says to me, “Momma, how was your day?” And today, I will tell her today was a very special day. Today I got to look freedom in the face, and it looks mighty fine. I congratulate you all again.

And may I now ask USIS Director Ale Mayorkas to join me as we have the privilege of recognizing two very accomplished individuals that have contributed greatly to the United States but were not born in this country. They are Americans by Choice.

The first has dedicated her life to public service and advancing the interest of the United States. Her name is Maria Otero. She currently serves as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights here in the Department of State. Born in La Paz, Bolivia, as you heard Ms. Otero currently is the highest-ranking Hispanic official in the Department of State and the first Latina under secretary in its history, formerly president and CEO of ACCION International, a pioneer and leader in the field of economic development working in 25 countries around the globe.

Ms. Otero is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on inclusive economic growth, women’s issues, and international development. President Bill Clinton appointed her to the Board of the United States Institute of Peace in 2000, a position she held for eight years, including one term as vice chair of the board. Her achievements and awards are too numerous to mention here, but today I’m happy to add one more distinction to her list. I’m honored to recognize Under Secretary Otero as an outstanding American by Choice. Her life of dedicated public service serves as an example and an inspiration to all Americans. Please join me. (Applause.)

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Thank you. Thank you so much. Indeed what an honor. And good afternoon. What a pleasure to be here with all of you on this special occasion, on World Refugee Day. Let me give you all my heartfelt congratulations on this day, all of you sitting on the front row and your families for crossing this very important milestone in your day. It is really an honor to be here in this celebration and to also recognize that certainly where I come from, when we have celebrations, one of the first things we do is dance. And I know that we can’t do that here, but Alejandro will tell me that – (laughter) – we will all be dancing before this day is over.

I want to thank Deputy Secretary Burns, Assistant Secretary Anne Richard, Deputy Secretary Jane Lute, Denis McDonough, and of course the Bureau for Population, Refugee, and Migration that works here in the Department of State, and just all the wonderful work they did to make this important ceremony possible. And I want to thank especially the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, led by Alejandro Mayorkas, and all the work that they are doing in order to make sure that men and women can fulfill their dream of becoming citizens. And finally, let me also acknowledge Khaled Hosseini, who is a fellow American by Choice, and he’s also the United Nations High Commissioner Refugee Goodwill Envoy. It is a privilege to be here with you.

Every minute, eight people are forced to flee their homes due to war or persecution. Not one of those eight people spend one minute wanting to be a refugee. It is not by choice that they have to do that. But in 2011, record numbers of people were newly displaced as refugees. They fled their homes. They fled their countries. They were forced to displacement. The number reached 42 million.

Just last week, I was in Thailand, where I visited refugee camps of Burmese who had suffered persecution and insecurity and who had been in those camps for some – for over – for decades. I’ve visited refugee camps in Iraq, in Kenya, in Pakistan, and quite a number of other countries, including here in the United States, where we want to ensure the refugees that arrive into this country are given the resources and the support that they need to start a new life.

Today, as we know, we are welcoming all of you as new American citizens, including a Marine. Thank you for your service. Also a set of three siblings – and I was picking you out. Yeah. (Laughter.) A husband and wife who are here also. And all of you who have been here, including a permanent resident who was here for 33 years before becoming a citizen.

Now, some of you would call what you have done is to become naturalized. Now, as a naturalized citizen myself, I have to say I’m not sure about this language of being naturalized. I wasn’t an alien before – (laughter) – and then became naturalized. So I just want to take this opportunity, if you permit me, to be able to say to my colleagues here maybe we need to change this language a little bit and see if we don’t have to ever talk about foreigners as being aliens.

But in seriousness, in all seriousness, this is such a humbling event for me, and it’s so humbling to receive this award. I was 12 when I came to this country from Bolivia, but I didn’t become a United States citizen until I was 29, and that was by choice. It was a conscious choice, and one that made me feel very proud. Like all of you, I choose every day to live by the values of this country, values like compassion, like integrity, like inclusion, like equality.

It’s been a tremendous honor to be able to serve this country as the highest-ranking Latina in the history of the State Department, and to witness first-hand how the United States is helping to build a world which its members of society around the world, no matter where they are, are treated according to the values that we so respect. It’s our principles, our heritage, that don’t allow us to ignore our responsibility as a humanitarian leader. We have an obligation as the United States. Our history, our national identity, is what asks us to be able to continue welcoming new Americans into this society, especially those that are fleeing adversity as you have been. In reality, it’s the United States that has always been a melting pot of languages, of customs, of traditions, of dancing as I said. This is a country full of colors, of religions, of all different ways of expressing our own identities. And we make this country stronger because we bring those with us and because they are part of our history and part of our journey.

Today, we are celebrating your journey. It has undoubtedly been a very long road to get to this new citizenship day, and we commend you. Your communities in this new country await for your contributions, for your talents, which you will bring to enrich it. And you will enrich also your children and those that follow you.

So congratulations. I proudly share with you this award that is being given to me as an American by Choice. And may we all live and live up to the dignity and to the responsibility of our chosen citizenship. Thank you. (Applause.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY LUTE: Thank you, Maria. Today, I also have the honor of recognizing another naturalized American who’s made his mark through writing and philanthropy. No, my own family has not been in this country 100 years. But if somebody called for an American and I were to step out, you would think I was straight out of central casting. And in my blood, it runs red, white, and blue. But for a good portion of my life, I sweat UN blue. And our next honoree, as a Goodwill Ambassador, a Goodwill Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has worked to bring the plight of the world’s refugees into public view.

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Khaled Hosseini and his family were granted asylum in the United States in 1980. He was 15 at the time. And for those of you who are familiar with Ellis Island and its legacy, you’ll know that in 1892, the first person crossing the threshold of that island coming to this country was an Irish immigrant, Annie Moore, who was also 15. Can you imagine?

Khaled earned a medical degree in 1993 and was a practicing internist from 1996 to 2004. While in medical practice, he began to write his first novel, The Kite Runner, an extraordinary book, which was published in 2003 and has since become an international bestseller, published in 70 countries. His subsequent novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, has also been published in over 60 countries. He is the founder of the Khaled Hosseini Foundation, which works to provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. And the foundation supports projects that provide shelter to refugee families, along with economic and educational opportunities, healthcare for women and children. In addition, the foundation awards scholarships to women pursuing higher education in Afghanistan.

It is my pleasure to recognize Mr. Hosseini today as an outstanding American by Choice. Through his work with UNHCR, the Khaled Hosseini Foundation, and his literary works, he serves as a voice for some of the world’s most vulnerable and an outstanding example of American generosity, compassion, and concern. Ladies and gentlemen, Khaled Hosseini. (Applause.)

MR. HOSSEINI: Thank you so much. I wish my dad were alive. He brought me to this country. This would have meant a lot to him, I know. Well, thank you for allowing me the privilege of witnessing this naturalization ceremony. Congratulations to all of you for being Americans now. And let me say how deeply honored I really am to receive this outstanding American by Choice Award. It means a great deal to me and I know that it means a lot to my family.

The truth is that if I’m being called an outstanding American today, it’s because the United States made the choice to grant asylum to myself and my family back in 1980. Our homeland of Afghanistan had been invaded by the Soviet Union and war had erupted. And weekly, I remember hearing news from Kabul of people that we knew back home: friends, relatives, people I’d been raised with, aunts, uncles, who were being imprisoned, tortured, killed, or would simply disappear. We heard harrowing tales of people fleeing and trekking across deserts and over mountain ranges in the dark of night. And I think a lot about how fortunate I’ve been. And every day, I give thanks for this miraculous act of generosity and for my home and this great nation. And I imagine, as I have on many occasions, what my life, how it might have turned out, had the U.S. not granted asylum to my family and me.

In 1980, I was 15 years old. If I’d returned to Afghanistan, I’m certain that my options would have been few and they would have been dire. It’s entirely likely that I would have been drafted and sent to fight. I might have been injured, paralyzed, or killed. My family may have fled to Pakistan. They may have had to live in a refugee camp. Our prospects for leaving a refugee camp and having a home of our own again would have been dim. And some of the people that I love might have died long before we had a chance to resettle. So I’ve been very fortunate indeed.

Here in America, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a well-run public high school, to earn an undergraduate degree, and then a medical degree and practice medicine. I worked as a physician for almost nine years, and then I pursued my life-long childhood dream of writing fiction. I’m married and have two children whose lives are safe and rich with opportunity.

And through great fortune I became a successful writer, an achievement that has enabled me to give back through the foundation that my wife and I established in 2007. Like the vast majority of – that were naturalized citizens – I have prioritized being a productive member of my new community and to giving back in thanks what I’ve been given.

And this, I think perhaps one of the – speaks to one of the great misconceptions about refugees and about asylum seekers, that they’re really a burden, that they are a monolithic community of weak, dependent, helpless people who have little to offer. I think that’s both inaccurate and unhelpful. World Refugee Day, for me, is a time to remember that refugees and asylum seekers are resilient and proud people, that they’re tremendous survivors who maintain hope and courage in the face of truly daunting personal circumstances. They bring expertise and talent and passion to the countries that welcome them. Many are industrious people who contribute to the new communities and to the local culture and to the local economy. They become productive members of the new society as entrepreneurs, engineers, lawyers, doctors, and artists.

As Americans and Americans by Choice, we have a lot to be proud of. And though we can’t absorb all 42.5 million refugees worldwide, it’s indisputable that the United States welcomes and embraces newcomers in a way that most countries do not. We are unique here in this country in that we not only offer a path to citizenship for people of any race, coming from any nation, but once an individual has been granted citizenship, he is an American for life. The numbers of citizens that we naturalize each year makes the U.S. unique among nations and gives it the credibility to call upon other nations to do more.

Today, the scope of the world’s refugee crisis is enormous. Over 42 million people have been displaced by violence, persecution, and war. Global, social, and economic trends, including the interplay between population growth, urbanization, natural disaster, climate change, rising food prices, ethnic conflict, and religious conflict, are just some of the factors that are influencing this proliferation in displaced people. These people are in desperate need of the world’s attention and of its generosity, the sort that I have so thoroughly benefited from.

We have done a lot in this country to assist those who have fled from upheaval, violence, and persecution, and we need to do more. It’s important that we keep our borders open to those who are in grave danger. And we need to call upon our friends and allies to do the same. The displacement crisis is an issue that calls for an international response, not unilateral action or the expectation that a few nations, with problems of their own, will shoulder the burden alone. I hope communities in this great country and others continue to welcome the enrichment, the potential, the enthusiasm, that refugees and asylum seekers bring to their neighborhoods.

Let me close by giving thanks once more for this tremendous and special recognition and by congratulating all of you today for – on this very special day, because today you’re all Americans by Choice. Thank you. (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD: Thank you. Thank you very much. I would now like to introduce Deputy National Security Advisor Dennis McDonough who has shown great dedication to the refugee admissions program. His work on Capitol Hill and now at the White House has covered a wide range of pressing foreign policy matters important for us today. He has taken an interest in helping Iraqi refugees reach America. He has helped ensure that for years to come, the United States will provide opportunities for men, women, and children to find refuge from persecution and rebuild their lives. For this, my colleagues and I are deeply grateful. Dennis will now make some remarks on behalf of the White House and then lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Immediately following this, Kim Zanotti, the Washington, DC Field Office Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, will come to the stage for the presentation of naturalization certificates. And it is great to have you here, too, Kim. Dennis, I invite you to please come up to the microphone.

MR. MCDONOUGH: Thanks, Anne, very much for that nice introduction. And let me thank Bill and Jane, Ali, Maria, it’s good to see you guys here and not in the situation room. (Laughter.) I want to repeat what Anne had to say about Kim. I think she has arguably the best job in the world, getting to swear in – thousands of new Americans a year. So thank you for what you do.

On behalf of the President, let me just congratulate all of you on becoming the newest Americans today. I’m honored to share this proud moment with you, I’m also deeply honored to share it with Maria and Khaled, for the symbol and the example that you set for all of us. As the President said yesterday, in commemoration of World Refugee Day, we know full well how much we benefit as a country from the many refugees who have sought security and freedom in the United States. Our future is brighter because of your talent, intellect, and commitment to this country. When you were asked what it meant to you to become American citizens, you spoke of your gratitude for newfound safety and freedom. And your commitment to serve your new country, your courage and your perseverance as you rebuild your lives after nearly unimaginable hardships, is a great inspiration to all of us.

As a grandson of immigrants, I’m proud to say that the United States – and grateful to say that the United States – takes in more refugees than any other country in the world. This both speaks to the generosity of the American people and reflects our values, our history, and of course our interests. That’s why the President has directed us over the course of the last couple years to lead a government-wide effort to undertake reforms to make to our refugee admissions program. We have made strides in updating our processes, as Anne’s just said, so that these processes both address the security challenges of today and maintain our commitment to providing refuge for those who have earned it and who need it.

The progress that we have made owes a great deal to the dedication of so many of you in this room. I want to point out in particular Scott and Liz, the President’s principal advisors on this over the last several years. And of course I want to underscore the leadership and express appreciation for the Departments of Homeland Security and State in this critical effort, as well as our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services, which has done so much to resettle newly arrived refugees in the United States.

So even as we recognize our many achievements in improving refugee resettlement, the continued persecution of so many people around the world, as we’ve heard Bill and Jane refer to, underscores that this urgent reminder that we have to do much more. This will remain a high priority of the President and all of us in the White House for the months and years to come.

So now, my fellow citizens, it is my distinct privilege to invite you to stand and to recite in unison with me the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. So please rise, everybody, and we’ll say the Pledge in unison.

(The Pledge of Allegiance is recited.)

So please take a seat. Thank you all again for all that you have done to get here on this amazing day. And on behalf of the President, thank you for all you have done. (Applause.)

MS. ZANOTTI: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Kimberly Zanotti, the USCIS Field Office Director of the Washington Field Office. And now is going to be the time where you’re going to be getting your certificates of naturalization.

I want to thank everyone up on the stage here. And I’m going to actually ask Jane Holl Lute to stand up here right next to me so that she can be the first person that shakes your hands. And I’d like to invite everybody to form a receiving line. (Applause.) I think it would look great, right?

So when you hear your name called, I’m going to ask you to come up on this stage here and get your certificate and shake everyone else’s hands. And congratulations again to each and every one of you.

(The certificates are presented.)

Congratulations again to each and every one of our candidates. (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD: Have a seat for one last word. Thank you all. As we wrap up today’s ceremony, I want to acknowledge just the presence of two additional people. Eskinder Negash is here from the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the Department of Health and Human Services, and is himself a refugee who’s become an American citizen. (Applause.)

And my predecessor, Colin Powell’s Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Gene Dewey, is here, lending a nice bipartisan support to this event today, which is always so nice to have here at the State Department. Thank you, Gene. (Applause.)

And then I’d like to offer once closing thought. The 19 of you came here as the result of a tragedy. Each of you received protection here, and each of you has transformed your life from tragedy to triumph. You join 1.4 million other refugees who, since 1980, have become American citizens. The opportunity continues to be yours as you weave your stories into the fabric of our nation and as your history becomes part of American history.



PRN: 2012/1035



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