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18 February 2011

USCIS naturalizes 98 service members in Kandahar, Afghanistan

Three officers from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) district office in Bangkok, Thailand, traveled to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan to naturalize 98 soldiers, sailors and Marines during a ceremony on Jan. 29. The USCIS team, led by Bangkok District Director Robert Looney, included officers Traci Piccian and Leah Van Wilgen.

98 new U.S. citizens after their naturalization ceremony in Kandahar, Afghanistan with U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James L. Terry; Karl W. Eikenberry, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan; Congressman Darrell Issa; and Robert Looney, USCIS Bangkok District Director. (Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.)
98 new U.S. citizens after their naturalization ceremony in Kandahar, Afghanistan with U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James L. Terry; Karl W. Eikenberry, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan; Congressman Darrell Issa; and Robert Looney, USCIS Bangkok District Director. (Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.)

While USCIS officers regularly travel to military installations worldwide to provide immigration services to members of the armed forces, this is only the second time they have been to Kandahar Airfield, which is close to the front lines. The experience was one the USCIS officers will never forget.

Once there, they reviewed each candidate’s naturalization application package, and administered the naturalization test and interviewed each candidate.

Marine Cpl. Yevgeniy Levin receives his Certificate of Naturalization from Robert Looney, USCIS Bangkok District Director during a naturalization ceremony on Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on Jan. 29. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corp)
Marine Cpl. Yevgeniy Levin receives his Certificate of Naturalization from Robert Looney, USCIS Bangkok District Director during a naturalization ceremony on Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on Jan. 29. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corp)

The compelling stories of service and personal courage heard during those interviews continue to resonate with the USCIS officers.

They learned that four of the new citizens have received the Purple Heart for wounds they received while deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Army Spc. Abdirahman Mohammed Abdul, who came to the United States as a refugee from Somalia as a child, proudly brought his Purple Heart medal to the naturalization interview.

The USCIS officers also learned that many of the new citizens have served multiple deployments in Afghanistan or Iraq; in fact, several are on their third deployment, and one – Army Sgt. Jaime Adame, a native of Mexico, has been deployed four times.

During the naturalization ceremony, hosted by the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, District Director Looney thanked the service members and reiterated the USCIS commitment to provide exceptional access to immigration services to all members of the military, whether they serve stateside or on the front lines in Afghanistan.

Servicemembers placed their weapons underneath their seats during the USCIS naturalization ceremony held Jan. 29 on Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force)
Servicemembers placed their weapons underneath their seats during the USCIS naturalization ceremony held Jan. 29 on Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force)

Also participating in the ceremony was U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry, who said he was honored to share the day with the new citizens. He said that their demonstrated commitment and character has earned them the respect and gratitude of the United States of America.

Also in attendance was a delegation of six U.S. congressmen in Afghanistan to visit with the U.S. military and meet with members of the Afghan government. They included Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Rep. Brian Higgins of New York, Rep. Darryl Issa of California, Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, and Rep. Todd Platts of Pennsylvania.

Since 2004, when the first naturalization ceremony was held overseas, USCIS has naturalized 885 members of the U.S. armed forces deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

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15 February 2011

Gerda Weissmann Klein: An Outstanding American By Choice

Posted by Alejandro Mayorkas

On February 15, 2011, in recognition of her life’s work, President Obama awarded Gerda Weissmann Klein the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in a White House ceremony.

Several weeks ago, on January 20, it was my distinct honor to meet Ms. Weissmann Klein and recognize her as an Outstanding American by Choice in a special naturalization ceremony at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.  The Outstanding American by Choice recognition is presented to naturalized U.S. citizens who have demonstrated their commitment to this country through civic participation, professional achievement, and responsible citizenship and commitment to the shared ideals that unite us as Americans.

Gerda Weissmann Klein is just such an individual.  She is a humanitarian, author, human rights activist, Holocaust survivor, and proud naturalized citizen.


Director Alejandro Mayorkas presents Gerda Weissmann Klein the Outstanding American by Choice (ABC) recognition

Director Alejandro Mayorkas presents Gerda Weissmann Klein the Outstanding American by Choice (ABC) recognition

Gerda Weissmann Klein endured concentration camps and a 350-mile death march in her native Poland to survive the World War II homeless, without family or friends.  But her outlook changed when she married U.S. Army Intelligence officer Kurt Klein, her liberator, and immigrated to the United States. Since becoming a citizen, she has dedicated her life to delivering a message of hope, inspiration, love, and humanity.  The film version of her autobiography, which chronicled her experiences during the war and coming to America, won the 1995 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.

Her foundation, the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation, promotes tolerance and community service through education programs and has reached more than 11 million students across the globe.

Gerda Weissmann Klein cherishes her American citizenship and the opportunities this country has given her. In that spirit she founded Citizenship Counts, a nonprofit organization with the mission to educate students on the tenets of citizenship, inspire their pride in being American, and encourage them to participate in their community.

Her inspiring charge to us all is best articulated through her own words:

America is a unique, diverse and wondrous country, comprised both of those who know its magnificence as their birthright, and others, like me, who are privileged to call our adopted country ‘our own.’ What we all share is a desire for our families to enjoy America’s boundless opportunities while extending to all our fellow citizens justice and the blessings and freedoms upon which the nation was founded.

For her efforts to foster tolerance, compassion, and understanding, and to promote an appreciation for the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, it was my privilege to recognize Gerda Weissmann Klein as an Outstanding American by Choice.

We at USCIS congratulate Gerda Weissman Klein for her remarkable lifelong achievements to community and country.

Ms. Weissmann Klein speaks about her work at the Outstanding American by Choice ceremony at the Mall of America

Ms. Weissmann Klein speaks about her work at the Outstanding American by Choice ceremony at the Mall of America

08 February 2011

"Enlaces" Public Engagement in Spanish: How Things are Going

On Jan. 29, the Washington District Office hosted the third in a series of quarterly national public engagements in Spanish. These public engagements, called “Enlaces,” are part of an ongoing effort to reach out to the diverse communities we serve. Each session includes agency updates and focuses on a specific immigration topic and includes an open discussion facilitated by USCIS officials.

This "Enlace" was different from the first engagements because community members were able to attend in person or by telephone and reached a much wider audience. It was also the first time that USCIS has hosted a national engagement on a Saturday. Holding the event on a weekend was part of USCIS’s efforts to reach those community members whose access to us is limited, whether it is because of work schedules, transportation or other life factors.  There were over 40 in-person participants, 165 via telephone and over 150 participants registered to participate via WebEx.

Participants wait in line to register

Photo: Participants wait in line to register

“Public service is a core mission of our agency,” said USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas. “These Spanish-language sessions expand our ongoing efforts to communicate with the many communities we serve.”

“Enlaces” will help customers understand how best to navigate through the immigration experience and highlight resources available on the agency’s Spanish-language website (www.uscis.gov/espanol).