Newest Americans pledge their allegiance
Wade Spees // The Post and Courier
Seventy-four new U.S. citizens from 46 countries were sworn in Friday under the live oaks at Middleton Place.
Two groups of immigrants lined up for two employees of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services on Friday morning at Middleton Place.
It was a beautiful day and place to become an American.
The men took the documentation from the immigrants and asked them if their loyalty had changed since the beginning of their naturalization process.
"Still willing to bear arms for the United States?" the men asked each of the 74 candidates. Yes, they all answered.
"Still willing to defend the Constitution?" Yes, they again replied.
They moved up to a table, where they signed their certificates of naturalization. There, they made a poignant exchange. Each immigrant -- whether from Belarus, India, Germany, Kazakhstan, Togo, Pakistan, China or elsewhere -- traded in a green card for an American flag.
They then received voter registration forms, but they weren't allowed to turn them in yet. Their path to citizenship was not yet done, but they were just one pledge away.
The immigrants walked toward the plantation house that was once home to Arthur Middleton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and sat under two magnificent live oaks that were perhaps as old as the nation itself. This was Middleton Place's second naturalization ceremony as part of the immigration bureau's annual celebration of Independence Day, when nearly 2,300 candidates become citizens at around 30 special ceremonies.
After a color guard band of colonial interpreters played "Yankee Doodle" and presented the flag, the immigrants sang the national anthem for their last time as non-citizens. Near the close of the ceremony, they got to exercise a patriotic privilege unique to new citizens, the Oath of Allegiance.
"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 and domestic."
Patrick Chang, 44, said escaping potentates was the main reason he came to the U.S. from China in 2002.
"You can choose your own leader and you can express your thinking," said Chang, who lives in Fort Mill with his family. "Just the experience, the feeling of not being scared of people telling you what to do."
Ignacio Vera, 35, came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1990 to lend financial support to his parents, who still live in his country of birth. He said he enjoys America's economic opportunities and is able to provide a home for his wife and two kids in Blythewood.
But not all the immigrants needed compelling reasons to become citizens. Sina Thorne came from Germany in 1998 and has lived in South Carolina for 13 years. After coming home from a trip to Europe, she said being a non-citizen was simply too inconvenient.
"Trying to get back into the country has gotten a lot harder, even for somebody with a green card," Thorne said. "I have two children, and I don't want to take the risk of getting kicked out of the country. So now it's time."
She let her patriotic credentials rest on the fact that her husband, John Thorne Jr., is a first lieutenant in the National Guard and is about to be deployed to Afghanistan.
But whatever their reasons for coming to the U.S., all the immigrants pledged allegiance to the flag as citizens at the close of the ceremony. Three days later, they will be celebrating their first July Fourth as full Americans.