Twenty individuals became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony Tuesday evening in true American fashion– at a baseball game.
The event marked the return of in-person ceremonies after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It took place prior to the first pitch of the Spokane Indians six-game series against the Hillsboro Hops. The new citizens were invited by the team to stay and watch the game after receiving their Certificate of Naturalization, which signifies they went through the legal process of becoming a U.S. citizen.
Bundled up in warm clothing due to the cold weather, Magistrate Judge James Goeke, officials from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and supportive loved ones gathered in front of the green gates of Avista Stadium to celebrate the 20 candidates for citizenship representing 16 countries.
“You are now fully invested in all the rights and responsibility of a U.S. citizen,” Goeke said after administering the Oath of Allegiance to the candidates.
“I encourage you to exercise those rights and shoulder those responsibilities, may that be in a big way or small,” he continued.
New citizen Valerie Torres is looking forward to having her voice heard at the polls. Torrez immigrated from Ecuador with her mother six years ago. She said the ceremony was a celebratory step toward building her “adult” life and “all the fun perks that come with it.”
“I feel good, I’m happy,” Torres said. “Me and my chihuahua just became citizens.”
In attendance to support Torres were her parents, Ivone and Bill Deymonaz, her brother Justin Deymonaz and her boyfriend, Kyle Niblock. Ivone Deymonaz became a U.S. citizen at the U.S. District Courthouse around five months ago and said she was happy to see her daughter was able to participate in a full in-person ceremony.
Bill Deymonaz said he was very excited for Torres and that he got to witness the moment. After the ceremony concluded, Torres registered to vote at a booth run by the League of Women Voters, who have attended the ceremonies for years to help new citizens get involved in civics.
Caregiver Naomi Bataminya has lived in Spokane for seven years. She was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but grew up in Uganda. She said she still has family living there whom she plans on helping to get citizenship.
Bataminya said she looks forward to furthering her education, participating in elections and continuing to build a home in Spokane.
“I’ve waited for this day for so long,” Bataminya said. “This is going to open up many opportunities for me and my life. It is a great day.”
Nursing student Divine Wilondja had her mother, brother, husband and their two children in attendance to support her. She said her birthday was Monday, so they plan on having a big party at her mother-in-law’s house to celebrate the two occasions.
Wilondja, who attends Spokane Falls Community College, said she immigrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo with her family. They lived in Connecticut and Maine before landing in Spokane seven years ago. Her two younger brothers and mother also became citizens during that time.
Wilondja said her next big goal is to buy a house and put down more roots. She loves living in Spokane and wants to continue to raise her family in the city, crediting its welcoming community, good schools, low crime rates and overall quiet feel.
Goeke said he and his fellow judges thoroughly enjoy getting to oversee these ceremonies. He said he was glad they were able to have one in person, and at a unique venue. He enjoys seeing new citizens and their loved ones celebrating and smiling.
When asked what advice he had for the new citizens, Goeke said they should participate in American life in whatever capacity they can.
“Participate in the community of our country,” Goeke said. “Get involved in politics and issues important to you, get involved in the community and be a good neighbor – in big and small ways.”