New citizens welcomed in spooktacular ceremony

By Duke Omara

Asonme Fozong bubbled with anticipation for the day she has long looked forward to.

The 15-year-old, who was born in Cameroon, was about to become a U.S. citizen, although she has always felt like one since moving to the U.S. a decade ago.

“It makes me feel real free and it gives me more opportunities,” said Fozong, who was accompanied by family members.

The biggest decision of the day was deciding what costume to wear to the ceremony, but in the end she chose just to go as herself.

Indeed, naturalization ceremonies are usually somber, surreal: a time to reflect on a past life while contemplating the start of a new one as an American citizen.

Yet that changed, for a day at least, when 57 costumed children representing 22 countries took their oaths of allegiance to the United States at a Halloween-themed event that was held Tuesday at the US Custom and Immigration Service (USCIS) offices, in Chicago.

Others, including parents, relatives and government officials from USCIS joined them in dressing up.

In keeping with the hopeful mood that citizenship brings with it, many of the boys came dressed as superheroes in Spiderman, Superman, and Batman costumes, while many of the girls preferred to be princesses.

The new citizens also listened to a recorded message from President Obama who urged them to make the most of their new immigration status.

“You have travelled a long path to get here. You have sworn a solemn oath to this country and now you have all the rights of citizenship, I ask that you use your freedoms and your talents to contribute to the good of our nation and the world,” Obama said.

For Melas Khano, who came to the ceremony to witness his daughter’s naturalization ceremony, the president’s words were particularly moving. Khano, who is originally from Iran, said life in the United States had been a blessing for him and his family. He especially wanted his small children to appreciate the new freedoms that the president spoke of.

USCIS costume
David Dann, a USCIS official, celebrates after winning the costume contest at a Halloween-themed naturalization ceremony in Chicago. 57 children from 22 countries became US citizens during the ceremony. (Duke Omara/MEDILL)

“They don’t how the old country (Iran) was. They think everywhere is the same and they don’t know what’s the difference between here and there,” said Khano, who fled Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Khano said one of his biggest hopes for his children was that they would learn to appreciate that difference.

During the ceremony, prizes were given for the best costume with the first prize going to David Dann, a supervisor in the citizenship section of the Department of Homeland Security. Dann, who came dressed as an English officer of the Raj in the British Empire in India, said his office was trying to make a memorable event even more memorable.

“The children become citizens when their parents become citizens but this is the official recognition,” said Dann.

Halloween, he added, was a quintessential American celebration that had become a worldwide phenomenon and was therefore an opportunity to just have a good time.

“It’s fun for everybody and its certainly fun for the office,” he said.

According to the Migration Policy Institute and US Census Bureau, in 2014, 653,000 immigrants became naturalized citizens, “bringing the total number of naturalized U.S. citizens to 20 million, nearly half the overall immigrant population of 42.4 million.”

“At first I was going to be a vampire but I decided against it because I am a teenager. I don’t want to enter the competition because it’s only for kids. But I enjoyed the show,” explained Fozong, the teen from the West African nation.

She said her first act as a citizen would be to go find something to eat and although she didn’t know where, she was sure it wasn’t going to be at McDonald’s, the iconic American eatery.

Her only regret was that this year’s Halloween will be on a Monday which would make it hard for her to go trick-or-treating.

Photo at top: Yazan Shamasan, originally from Palestine, celebrates with his children during a naturalization ceremony in Chicago, Tuesday. During the ceremony, the new citizens took part in a Halloween costume contest. (Duke Omara/MEDILL)