Hundreds to take Ike-delayed citizenship oaths

October 3, 2008 4:47:49 AM PDT
About 1,200 immigrants in the Houston area whose naturalization ceremonies were delayed by Hurricane Ike will take their citizenship oaths Saturday, just in time to register to vote in the November elections, officials said Thursday. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials originally said hurricane damage to their office would make it impossible to issue citizenship oaths until Oct. 29, well after the Monday deadline for voter registration. But they were able Thursday to enter the damaged portion of their building and get the paperwork needed to contact the scheduled applicants, spokeswoman Maria Elena Garcia-Upson said.

The ceremony, originally scheduled for Sept. 24, will be Saturday morning at Rice Stadium.

The change came as pressure built from immigration advocates, attorneys, U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Hughes and U.S. Rep. Gene Greene, all of whom pushed for an emergency ceremony.

"There's a lot of harsh talk about immigrants these days, and here are people doing everything right, complying with all of the rules, and we let a modest disruption in the paperwork flow put them off," Hughes told the Houston Chronicle. "We need to do this because it's the right thing for us to do."

Carlos Gutierrez, a 37-year-old mortgage broker from San Pedo Sula, Honduras, has been a legal resident since 1991 but decided last year to apply for citizenship.

"That's great news," he said of the new ceremony. "Nowadays, it's just much better to be a citizen for immigration purposes, for jobs, for security."

Elina Abramyan, 18, a self-described war child who came to the U.S. from Russia as a refugee five years ago, said she was scheduled to take her oath last month. She said she was pleased to learn her oath would come in time for her to register to vote.

"The thing is, I really want to vote because we need the right president," Abramyan told the newspaper.

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