Scotts Bluff National Monument to host its first naturalization ceremony

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Scotts Bluff National Monument will hold a naturalization ceremony for people who gained U.S. citizenship. Organizers said it's the first time the ceremony will be hosted there. (Photo by Visit Nebraska)
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By Meghan O’Brien and Kassidy Arena, Nebraska Public Media News

In her junior year of high school, Valeria Rodriguez took her Oath of Allegiance in Omaha and became an American citizen.

She and her family had driven seven hours across the state of Nebraska from her home in Scottsbluff to do so since there weren’t any ceremonies offered in her community.

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Until Thursday, new Americans living in western Nebraska made the drive to Denver for their naturalization ceremonies. Rodriguez, an accredited representative with Immigrant Legal Center and the executive director for Empowering Families, wanted to change that.

She decided to reach out to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office in Denver to gauge potential interest in holding a naturalization ceremony in western Nebraska.

“I don’t lose anything by simply reaching out to the field director and seeing his thoughts on having something like this in our community,” Rodriguez said. “It wouldn’t have happened without the field director in Denver being so passionate for community outreach and him valuing the importance of having these ceremonies in our backyards, in our communities.”

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The work leading up to the ceremony began last August, with a citizenship clinic and a citizenship class that helped students develop their civics knowledge and improve their English reading and writing skills.

A month later, Denver’s field director began working with Rodriguez to put together a naturalization ceremony at the Scotts Bluff National Monument.

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“[Rodriguez knows] how important it is to have a celebration close to where people live, where now our new citizens are calling home,” said Sophia Ibrahimi, director of communications at Immigrant Legal Center + Refugee Empowerment Center.

Rodriguez said some people in the community who passed their citizenship tests and interviews in Denver opted to wait to take their Oath of Allegiance until this month’s ceremony in Scottsbluff.

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“Knowing that they were able to do it here at home in a location that’s so historic for us, that represents our community, they were like, ‘You know what? I’m going to wait. I’m going to wait the three months to do it back home with my family and community members to celebrate together,’” Rodriguez said.

To many of the graduates of Rodriguez’s class, becoming an American citizen means claiming the country and community as home and recognizing the importance of civic engagement. It means that their voices will make a difference for generations to come, she said.

“This is the first and won’t be the only one. We hope that this is the start to continuous ceremonies in our community,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been seeing a lot of excitement in our community and motivation for individuals to apply for their citizenship.”

Most of the new American citizens are from Mexico, Rodriguez said, and some are traveling from other parts of the state as well as Wyoming for the ceremony. Mexico is the leading country of origin for new Americans. About 12.7% of people naturalizing in 2023 came from Mexico.

Rodriguez said now that there is an option for a naturalization ceremony in Scottsbluff, she has seen a growing interest within the community in gaining U.S. citizenship.

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