It’s Law Day, which means it’s also citizenship day for some 61 residents of the Inland Northwest.
That’s how many people will become U.S. citizens in a naturalization ceremony at noon at Spokane’s Masonic Temple.
For those of us who cherish the right – make that the responsibility – to fault our nation when it stumbles, ceremonies like this are a reminder that people around the world want to be Americans. They want the economic opportunity, the education and the political freedom available in this country.
Half a century ago, President Dwight Eisenhower declared May 1 as Law Day to commemorate the laws in preserving liberty and democratic freedom. The annual naturalization ceremony has been a Law Day fixture in Spokane for 30 years or more, and if experience is a guide, the 61 new citizens will be surrounded by proud supporters.
Yair Berenstein and his wife expect 15 to 20 friends to share the event with them.
The Israeli couple’s story is no tale of political intrigue. They were living in Haifa, where Yair Berenstein was an electrical engineer doing software work for a Spokane-based company. In 1997 he was offered a two-year contract to come here, where the family found much – the weather, the outdoors – to remind them of home.
They liked the surroundings, and they liked the opportunity. He’s now a partner in the company he helped found, Pondera Engineers. His two sons, who were 5 and 10 when they arrived, are 18 and 22 now, one a college graduate and the other about to enter. The Berensteins’ third son was born here in 1999 and is therefore a citizen already.
Finally, they decided this is home and applied for citizenship.
For all its shortcomings, the United States is still a magnet. In 2008, a record 1,046,539 people were naturalized, a number that rose in part because the cost of applying was about to go up but also because people wanted to vote in the historic 2008 presidential election.
In the Spokane region, officials of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services say, more than 350 people will obtain citizenship during the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. The 61 who will be administered the oath of citizenship today at the Masonic Temple represent 61 sets of motivations and expectations, but they share a conviction that the United States stands for something special.
For the Berensteins, it’s not merely that Spokane has become home.
“We are paying taxes and want to be able to vote,” Yair Berenstein said.
It doesn’t get any more American than that.
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