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24 February 2016

NBA Halftime Naturalization Ceremony: A Slam Dunk

Swearing in new U.S. citizens
The arena is packed with fans, the practice and hard work is done, the energy in the air is electric, and now it’s game time. A long, hard journey of blood, sweat and tears comes down to this pivotal moment. Officials take the court, the countdown…3…2…1…, the whistle blows, and game time! Fifty soon-to-be U.S. citizens take center court during the first-ever naturalization ceremony to take place during an NBA game. The new citizens hail from all corners of the globe and incredibly diverse backgrounds, but tonight they share one thing in common: they are about to take the final step in their immigration journey to become U.S. citizens.

On Feb 19, the Phoenix Suns basketball organization worked with us to host a unique half-time presentation for fifty very special new U.S. citizens. Because of the time constraints of an NBA halftime, we broke the ceremony into two parts. The first part took place at the Suns’ practice court, adjacent to the main arena, where the candidates and their families watched players warm up for the big game against the Houston Rockets, and waited for their ceremony to begin.

Gerda Weissmann Klein addresses
the new citizens
The new citizens were welcomed by Phoenix Suns President Jason Rowley, who said he was honored and humbled to host the historic ceremony at their facility. Next up was Holocaust survivor, humanitarian, and Medal of Freedom recipient Gerda Weissmann Klein, who brought the audience of 200 to tears as she recounted her journey from a Nazi concentration camp to the shores of the United States. Klein spoke to new citizens wearing her Medal of Freedom for the first time since receiving it from President Obama at the White House in 2011.

“Today you join me as U.S. citizens,” Klein proudly stated. “I wear this medal today for the first time in your honor.”

After remarks from local USCIS leadership, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” it was time for the big show. The soon-to-be new citizens just needed one final play to close out the game.

As they walked through the tunnel and took center court, Suns players, staff and referees high-fived and congratulated the citizens. Like a well-oiled machine center court was set, all fifty candidates had their right hands raised in front of thousands of cheering fans, and within minutes they were officially US citizens. With smiles on their faces and flags in their hands, it was truly a day they will remember.

New U.S. citizens celebrate with the fans


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