Choosing to Become an American

Soon after the 2016 presidential election––an election in which immigration was a highly contentious issue––The Atlantic sent out three photographers in search of what it means to become a citizen of the United States.

The defining moment of this process is the naturalization ceremony. These ceremonies, which take place in all 50 states, are administered by either the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or a presiding judge. While the program is rigid and clerical at moments, the significance of the process can be different for each individual: a search for a core set of ideals, like freedom and self-determination; a reunion with loved ones; the pursuit of entrepreneurship; or a step towards stability.

In a unified commitment and investment to become citizens of this country, candidates go through the motions in sync––singing the National Anthem, standing during the Call of Countries, and reciting the Oath of Allegiance––and in doing so, surrender one national identity in exchange for another.

Taken from naturalization ceremonies in Denver, Milwaukee and Miami, these photos reflect a process that transcends partisan lines and elected officials. Individually, the photos and their captions reveal unique motivations for being naturalized, but in their totality, convey a unity foundational to another oath that, when written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, was intended to be applicable to any citizen of any country: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

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