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Becoming an American citizen during a pandemic: Drive-thru naturalization ceremonies

Posted June 18, 2020 1:38 p.m. EDT
Updated June 18, 2020 1:48 p.m. EDT

— Amidst the chaos of a global pandemic, several Michiganders took a front seat to history on Wednesday as they were sworn in as American citizens -- all without leaving their cars.

Federal judges in Detroit are now welcoming citizens to the United States by swearing them in at a parking structure outside immigration field offices in the Motor City, according to a release by the United States courts.

Citizenship ceremonies across the United States became yet another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic as the system for swearing in new Americans screeched to a virtual standstill for months. Analysis has shown that more than 100,000 immigrants who would have taken citizenship oaths over the past few months were in limbo -- waiting for word on when their ceremonies will be rescheduled.

For some in Detroit, the long wait is over. They were able to check in with US Citizenship and Immigration Services employees wearing personal protective equipment and then were sworn in through their windows by a federal judge.

Instead of being packed into a courtroom, meeting room or auditorium with throngs of well-wishers looking on, communities have been forced to innovate. Officials in York County, Pennsylvania, have also started holding citizenship ceremonies outdoors due to the pandemic.

"It is always a pleasure to swear in new citizens," US Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Stafford, who swore in the first group of immigrants in Detroit, said in a news release. "They are so grateful to become Americans and eager to contribute to the community."

The Detroit Free Press reported that the naturalization ceremonies included people from as far as Albania, Brazil and Nigeria. Some were from as close as Canada.

"We have roots here," Canadian Sonia Karwal told the Detroit Free Press after she was naturalized as an American citizen. "We love this country. We are proud of this country. Our children are here. Our lives are here."

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