There are few more quintessentially American places to become a U.S. citizen than showing up for a naturalization ceremony at a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game against the Boston Red Sox before the first pitch.
With peanuts and Crackerjacks, only apple pie was missing from the collection of Americana at the stadium in the heart of the city where the Founding Fathers debated and signed the Declaration of Independence. Fifteen new Philadelphia-area residents from 11 different countries were sworn in as U.S. citizens Sunday at the game. The newly minted U.S. citizens are among the over 700 new citizens who have been naturalized at 11 professional ballparks this summer.
Naturalization ceremonies normally take place at courthouses around the country, but for the past four years, the U.S. courts have been bringing these patriotic occasions out of the courthouse and into communities.
Previously, naturalization ceremonies have taken place in courthouses, schools and even National Parks like the Statue of Liberty, but this year, the federal courts commemorated this once-in-a-lifetime moment with America's favorite pastime.
"I think it's a great opportunity. I'm really glad the USCIS is having the ceremony at the Phillies' stadium. It's a very special ceremony for me," Raquel Luismaya, one of the newly-sworn-in citizens, told CBS Philadelphia, referring to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The federal courts say their goal was not just to create an unforgettable stage where new Americans can celebrate their status, but to also educate the community. The ceremony on the diamond was part of the court's educational outreach ahead of both Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, which are celebrated together on September 17.
"We hope we remind people of the tremendous privileges we have under the constitution," Federal Chief Judge Juan Sanchez of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania explained to CBS News. "And remind people that we have a responsibility to be engaged."
Sanchez, who was born in Puerto Rico before his family moved to the Bronx, used baseball as a way into his new community as a kid. "Baseball kept me safe," he said, and went on to play for City College before pursuing a law degree at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
He says the special ceremonies this summer have been a lesson, reminding the Americans who filled the stadiums of their civic responsibility, even when that means reporting for jury duty.
That's why on Sunday Sanchez asked the 15 Philadelphians to raise their right hand, and led them in an oath, swearing allegiance to the United States.
"Do you hereby declare on oath that you absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which you have heretofore been a subject or citizen?" Sanchez asked.
"I do," they responded in unison.
"Congratulations," Sanchez declared, "you are now citizens of the United States of America. You now share the same rights, the same privilege, the same obligations as any citizen of this great country."
The home team may have lost to the Red Sox 6-3, but these 15 Phillies fans left the field as winners.
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