Family members of Sandra Chávez de Torres were disappointed they could not witness her milestone of taking the oath as a newly naturalized American citizen.
“I was expecting more. At least to see the ceremony, make it more memorable rather than seating outside,” said Martha Torres, about her mother who was 15 years old when she immigrated from Nicaragua to the United States.
“Wishing we were inside to watch her,” said Chris Chávez about his aunt.
After all, they took time off from work to be with her in hopes of making that moment a special one for their mother, sister, and aunt, but they were not aware that only the applicant was allowed to go inside to the naturalization ceremony.
That was one of the changes made by the U.S Citizen and Immigration Services to naturalization ceremonies after the COVID-19 pandemic wrecked everything.
“We use precautions in our daily operations just so that we’re not going to get sick, the public, just to keep everybody safe,” said Sharon Rummery, USCIS public affairs officer. “We followed the community levels that are established by the CDC.”
“So, it varies from office to office how we do our ceremonies,” Rummery said, adding that “in certain situations, ceremonies are limited to just the candidates and maybe somebody who can help a disabled person.”
Rummery said the Fresno Field office conducts same-day naturalization and many of the applicants like it better because they only have to come to the office one time, making it handy.
“The routine ceremonies continue to be for the same groups that you see. You got a good idea how big they are, between 50 and 150 in the average day,” Rummery said.
Currently the USCIS office in Fresno is doing approximately six routine swearing-in ceremonies a month – twice a month/three times a day – where approximately 120 applicants are scheduled each time but are sworn in in groups of 40 inside the building to maintain COVID-19 safety protocols.
Chávez de Torres was one of 120 people from the Valley from 28 countries including El Salvador (2), Nicaragua (1), Guatemala, México (62), Haiti (1) Honduras (1), Venezuela (1) and Peru (2) who took the oath of allegiance to the United States flag Thursday (Sept. 22) at the offices of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in Fresno.
“This is my home. It has been my home for the past 40 years, why not be part of it and participate in everything I need to participate like voting,” said Chávez de Torres of becoming a naturalized citizen.
Chávez de Torres’ three adult children, her nephew, her brother, and sister-in-law eagerly waited for her to emerge from the immigration office in downtown Fresno with her naturalization certificate in hand after taking the oath.
Maricela Landeros de Santos, who is originally from Michoacán, México and lives in Ceres in Stanislaus County, said she would have liked to have had her husband and her children accompany her to see the naturalization ceremony, but only candidates were allowed inside so she came by herself.
“A little sad because I thought that at least someone could accompany me, but it wasn’t allowed,” Landeros de Santos said.
Mercedes Márquez said she was aware that she would not be allowed to go inside to witness her father José Guadalupe Muro Viramontes become a US citizen.
Two two months ago, when her sister became a naturalized citizen, nobody was allowed to go in.
“Sad, but when he comes out, we can congratulate him,” Márquez said. Her father who is from Zacatecas, México, lives in Bakersfield.
Jéssica Rodríguez was hopeful that she was going to be able to see her mother Mercedes Heredia take the oath since she was her interpreter during the interview part of the process.
“We thought it would be the same today, but they did not let other candidates’ relatives go in, so we didn’t even try,” said Rodríguez. “I’ve been with her to all the interviews, lawyer appointments, everything. It’s disappointing that I couldn’t go in with her now.”
Her mother is from Guadalajara, Jalisco, México and currently lives in Delano.
The last large-scale naturalization ceremony held by the immigration office in Fresno was on March 10, 2020, when 543 Central Valley residents from 37 countries became US citizens at the Fresno Convention Center Valdez Hall. Families and friends attended those ceremonies.
“We don’t have any special ceremonies with larger groups like similar to the L.A. Dodger Stadium, one that you knew about the 2,100 new citizens,” Rummery said. “That’s pretty much where we are right now.”
Rummery said there are no plans to switch back to pre-pandemic mass ceremonies either at indoor or outdoor venues.
“Right now, we don’t have anything. We have not planned to change the way we’re doing these,” Rummery said, adding that if USCIS decided to change format of naturalization ceremonies it will be announced at that time.
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