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The new face of naturalization - Small masked ceremonies held outdoors amid push to avoid backlog

by Terry Date, Eagle Tribune

Canal Street drivers slowed and beeped their horns, intrigued by what they saw: 10 masked men and women sitting with formality in chairs outside a Lawrence building.

Spaced apart, the group looked like it could have been a theater troupe or players in a little-known lawn game. That is, until they stood, lifted their right hands and repeated an oath.

The participants – originally from countries including Albania, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, India and Liberia – swore allegiance to the Constitution of their adopted country, becoming the newest citizens of the United States.

Their distinction was short lived. In 30 minutes another small group completed the same series of gestures in the back parking lot.

During the month of June, naturalization ceremonies are taking place daily on the half hour outdoors at the Lawrence office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2 Mill St.

Officials are hustling to clear a backlog of 4,300 Massachusetts cases jammed up by the coronavirus crisis.

The ceremonies come while President Donald Trump tries to extend restrictions on legal immigration, orders first introduced during the coronavirus outbreak. Those restrictions denied green cards to many people seeking entry to the country.

The people being sworn in this month are typically permanent residents, with green cards, who have been in the country for five years or more and have completed a lengthy application process.

It's a bit of history being made for immigration services and the individuals.

Ordinarily, the ceremonies would be larger and longer, administered by judge magistrates indoors at auditoriums, libraries and museums throughout the Bay State. The Lawrence History Center hosted one a decade ago.

But because of the coronavirus, on March 18 the regular waves of oath taking screeched to a halt, as did preliminary in-person interviews and civics tests, further compounding the logjam.

Advocates for immigrants' rights including the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy — MIRA — fear that without means of conferring citizenship through virtual, remote efforts, naturalization will fall hopelessly behind and keep immigrants waiting far too long for citizenship.


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