Minnesota federal judges skip Trump’s welcome video for new citizens at naturalization ceremonies

The recorded presidential message has been a part of naturalization ceremonies for two decades. Federal judges here, however, are not playing Trump’s video congratulations, and it’s not clear why.
More than 500 people from 75 countries took the oath of allegiance during a naturalization ceremony Monday, June 24, 2019 at the RiverCentre in St. Paul. Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

For nearly two decades, the sitting president of the United States has made a brief appearance via videotape at swearing-in ceremonies of new citizens across the country, welcoming and congratulating the new Americans.


But in Minnesota, federal judges who conduct citizenship ceremonies have broken from that tradition. They are not showing President Trump’s 90-second recorded video message to new naturalized citizens. It’s not clear why. 


While the federal agency overseeing the naturalization process has a policy that calls for playing the president’s recorded video message in its ceremonies, federal judges can choose what elements to include as they administer the Oath of Allegiance.


“The judges of the court are able to decide what content to put in their ceremonies that they preside over,” Rebeccah Parks, media coordinator with the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, told Sahan Journal. “That’s the policy. It has always been the policy.” 


Parks said she is not aware of a Minnesota federal judge who’s showing Trump’s recorded video message for naturalized citizens at the ceremonies.


When Sahan Journal asked to interview some of the judges on why they’re not playing the Trump video, Parks said: “None of the judges will be interested in having that conversation with a member of the media.”

More than 500 people from 75 countries were sworn in as U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony Monday, June 24, 2019 at the RiverCentre in St. Paul. Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Citizenship ceremonies are festive occasions in Minnesota and across the country. Jubilant citizens receive their certificates of naturalization, hug their families and take pictures before they go home.


Videotaped presidential messages have been a standard tradition at those swearing-in ceremonies since the administration of George W. Bush.


In his video message to naturalized citizens, Bush said new Americans bring unique values to their new adopted homeland: hard work, entrepreneurship, love for family and love for country. “Your adopted homeland is a nation of immigrants whose history and culture have been enriched by generations of people who sought freedom in America,” he said in the video.


President Barack Obama told newly minted citizens in his congratulatory video that they, like the millions of immigrants before them, had the opportunity to enrich the United States through “contributions to civic society, business, culture and your community.”


“You can help write the next great chapter in our American story,” he told naturalized citizens. “And together we can keep the beacon that is America burning bright for all the world to see.”

Trump’s video message for naturalized citizens remains absent from federal court citizenship ceremonies in Minnesota. 

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Trump unveiled his recorded video message two years ago, amid his anti-immigrant rhetoric and his policies aimed at curbing the flow of refugees and immigrants to the United States. 


“America is our home. We have no other,” Trump says in the video. “You have pledged allegiance to America. And when you give your love and loyalty to America, she returns her love and loyalty to you.”


Speaking of the rights and responsibilities that new Americans are accorded, Trump says that naturalized citizens must “assimilate to our way of life.”

Becoming a citizen is no easy task

To those born in America, becoming a citizen may seem easy. It’s not.

Immigrants and refugees must live in the United States as permanent residents for five years to qualify, or be married to a U.S. citizen for three years while living in the country for that period.


If their application is approved, residents must take a civics test covering American history and government. They are randomly asked 10 out of 100 questions and must answer six correctly. Would-be citizens are also assessed on their ability to write three or four simple sentences in English. 


The Trump administration plans to roll out a revised U.S. citizenship test late next year or in early 2021.

The naturalization ceremony is a launching point for new citizens to begin a new chapter of life, said Corleen Smith, director of immigration services at International Institute of Minnesota, which helps more than 1,000 legal permanent residents each year to apply for citizenship.


“They are now able to travel freely,” Smith said. “They have access to a U.S. passport. They are able to offer citizenship to their minor children. They are able to vote. Security from deportation. Access to better opportunities.”


Smith said the video from the president is just one small part of the whole process of the naturalization ceremony. 


For now, the Trump video remains absent from federal court citizenship ceremonies in Minnesota. 


Instead, after taking the Oath of Allegiance, naturalized citizens now listen to a congratulatory message from the presiding judge, watch a video montage set to “America the Beautiful,” and then recite the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Mukhtar M. Ibrahim is the founder, editor and executive director of Sahan Journal, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to chronicling the struggles, successes and transformations of Minnesota’s immigrant and refugee communities.


He previously worked as a staff writer for the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio News. He has also written for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Al Jazeera English, BuzzFeed News and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.


Mukhtar is among the first of his generation’s professional, accomplished journalists of Somali background in Minnesota and in the country. His leadership has been recognized with many awards and accomplishments and is sought-after speaker and panelist at leading institutions, organizations and conferences around the United States.

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