Immigration is a “hot topic” right now. Unfortunately, many of the issues focus on a negative aspect of immigration. There are currently thousands of illegal immigrants in our country, and some of them pose safety hazards for the rest of us. That is a complex issue, and certainly deserves attention. However, there is another side of immigration that is often overlooked by the media. Legal immigration represents much of what is best about America.

On March 16th I attended a “Naturalization Ceremony” at West Seneca West Senior High School. At that ceremony my son-in-law, Valeriu “Vali” Ciobanu, was sworn in as an American citizen. It was a wonderful experience for him and our family. He was one of 51 individuals sworn in as naturalized American citizens. They came from more than 30 different countries, including Canada, Brazil, Panama, Great Britian, Bhutan, Thailand, Yemen, Sweden, Italy and Moldova.   Each of these individuals had reasons to leave their country of birth. Each viewed America as a land of opportunity. For most of these people, this ceremony was “a dream come true.”

Vali was born in Moldova when it was one of the “Soviet Socialist Republics,” and was essentially a colony of Russia. Everything was controlled by the Communist Party. Vali’s father was a Christian pastor and their family experienced persecution and harassment because of their faith. Things improved somewhat for Vali’s family after the “Iron Curtain” fell in the early 1990s. However, Moldova was still a very poor and corrupt country. It was (and is) a difficult place to live. His family managed to get by with help from American Christians who visited to help build churches and encourage fellow Christians who had experienced persecution. One American family offered Vali an opportunity to come to America for a college education. With their help he attended Kent State University in Ohio. This was a challenging experience since he wasn’t yet fluent in English. (Imagine trying to attend college in a foreign country when you don’t know the language.) He persevered and was able to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. After graduating from college Vali obtained a work visa and remained in America (legally).

It was during this period that he met and courted my daughter, Elizabeth. They got married in 2013. Today they live in Allegany County with their two children, Anna and Zoe. After their marriage, Vali applied for a “Green Card” as a permanent resident alien. This involved screening, testing, and sponsorship. Elizabeth and I sponsored Vali, which was basically a guarantee that he wouldn’t become a burden or problem for America. He is a devoted husband and father, and has worked to support and provide for his family. For him America represented a place to come for freedom and opportunity.

I believe America is better and stronger when immigrants, like Vali, come here and become citizens. They bring their strengths, abilities, dreams, visions and vitality. This is a very different experience from that of “illegal” immigrants. They come here without any screening, testing, or sponsorship. Ironically, most of the amnesty programs that have been proposed excluded those who came here legally and were pursuing citizenship. It was almost as though we were punishing those who came here legally, and were doing it right.

For me the highlight of the naturalization ceremony was the “Oath of Allegiance” that every naturalized citizen recites. That oath is: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.” Perhaps it would be good for all citizens (not just naturalized citizens) to take this oath.

I wish to take this opportunity to welcome Vali and his fellow naturalized citizens to America. This is now your home, just as much as it is mine. WELCOME.


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