On America's birthday, 125 people became the newest U.S. citizens at historic naturalization ceremonies taking place at the White House and George Washington's Virginia home. After 100 specially picked immigrants were sworn in as Americans at Mount Vernon earlier in the day, President Barack Obama welcomed 25 members of the armed services to take the oath at a service in the White House East Room.
"What a perfect way to celebrate America's birthday - the world's oldest democracy, with some of our newest citizens," the president said at the White House ceremony, which was also attended by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Alejandro Mayorkas.
"And as members of our military, you raised your hand and took an oath of service," the president said. "Today, you raised your hand and have taken an oath of citizenship. And I could not be prouder to be among the first to greet you as 'my fellow Americans.'"
Of the 25 service members sworn in Wednesday, about half were from Central and South American countries including Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and El Salvador.
A larger group of around 100 - reports have said between 98 and 103 - immigrants from 45 countries also took the oath of citizenship Wednesday as a special naturalization ceremony at George Washington's Mount Vernon estate in Virginia.
After the ceremony, around 6,500 other Americans joined these new citizens for an ice cream social and daytime fireworks. Actors dressed in colonial garb mixed with guests and even General and Mrs. Washington were on hand for photo-ops and congratulations to the new citizens.
Back at the White House, the president and first lady rounded out their day with a BBQ and, yes, more ice cream on the South Lawn before the National Mall firework show began around 9:15 p.m. Speaking during the BBQ the president again honored U.S. servicemen present at the event.
"It is always such an honor for us to spend this holiday with members of our military and your extraordinary families. All of you represent what is best in America," the president said, adding, "as your Commander-in-Chief -- but also as an American - I want to invite all of you over to say one thing: thank you."
As the annual firework show lit up the sky of the nation's capital, D.C. residents sought a moment of reprieve from the stifling heat to celebrate the birth of the nation and what it stands for today, best characterized by White House Domestic Policy Council director Cecelia Munoz at the Mount Vernon ceremony earlier in the day.
"Today we celebrate the independence [the first Americans] risked everything to gain," said she said, adding, "And we commemorate the first generation of men and women who were not born American but became American."
by RTT Staff Writer
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