Macomb County hosts naturalization event

By: Thomas Franz | C&G Newspapers | Published September 22, 2015

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Luis Pastora was just a toddler when he and other family members fled his homeland of Nicaragua in a Red Cross caravan in 1980.

They grabbed whatever they could fit in a car, and fled to Honduras to seek safety from fighting that was going on in their home country at the time.

For 20 years, Pastora and his family lived in Honduras thanks to a job Luis’ father was able to get through a connection he had while working as a consultant in the agriculture industry.

When the environment in Honduras became unsettled, Pastora flew to Michigan in 2000 to live with other family members who had previously fled Nicaragua.

Leaving Honduras meant that he would also be leaving behind some of his family, including his father, Carlos.

In 2009, Luis, who’s now 39, was able to bring Carlos, 75, to the U.S. to join him in Rochester Hills.

On Sept. 18, the two exchanged a teary-eyed embrace, as they celebrated Carlos’ naturalization ceremony to become an official U.S. citizen.

“We were without a country for a long time, and now this is our country,” Luis said.

Their story was one of several told at a naturalization ceremony hosted by Macomb Community College and One Macomb Sept. 18. Overall, 87 applicants representing 32 countries participated in the ceremony to become official U.S. citizens.

The event was part of Macomb County’s celebration of the nationwide Welcoming Week, an event that serves to highlight the contributions of immigrants to American communities.

Assistant County Executive Pam Lavers said that the number of applicants for this year’s naturalization event was double from 2014, the first year in which Macomb County government hosted a naturalization event.

“It’s one of the most exciting parts of my job, is being able to host these events,” Lavers said.

During a speech she made during the event, Lavers said the Macomb Intermediate School District is home to 12,000 students who come from homes where another language besides English is spoken, and that 100 languages are spoken throughout the district.

Mike Klinger, a Detroit field office director with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, provided more statistics on immigration in Michigan.

His Detroit office holds three naturalization events weekly at the federal court in downtown Detroit. His group also holds a pair of naturalization events throughout metro Detroit each month, and twice monthly in Grand Rapids. 

Annually, 12,000-13,000 people participate in naturalization ceremonies through the Detroit office to live in Michigan, and that number has remained consistent since 2011, Klinger said.

To be naturalized, he added that applicants typically have lived in the U.S. for five years — three years if they’re married to a citizen — have learned English and U.S. history, and have been upstanding citizens who have contributed to their communities with good moral character.

“Everybody has a different story, and that’s what’s great about this,” Klinger said. “There’s people who came for work and stayed or became a part of neighborhoods and didn’t want to leave. There are people who came here as students, met someone, fell in love and established families; or refugees, people who didn’t have another option but to come to this country. It’s a wide variety.”

For the Pastora family, the event provided an opportunity to gain back what they lost in Nicaragua.

“I’m very happy now because of the fact I’m free again,” Carlos said. “I was born free and didn’t want to live in oppression, under any other regime other than freedom. Now that I’m a U.S. citizen, I have that freedom back, and I want to die free.”

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