THE ISSUE

On June 14, 69 people took the oath of citizenship at Lancaster County Courthouse, the second of four naturalization ceremonies scheduled here for this year. The group recited the Pledge of Allegiance, received flags and their naturalization certificates, and officially became U.S. citizens.

We never get tired of reading the stories of those who achieve their dream of American citizenship.

It fills us with optimism and pride, and it reminds us that the U.S. remains — no matter our internal divisions — a democratic beacon to others around the world.

The immigrants arriving in the U.S. now may be from different places than 50 or 100 years ago, but their idea of America is the same: a place to be free, away from persecution and war, with the chance of a better life for themselves and their families.

Adding them to our vibrant, diverse population strengthens us.

Bhakta Biswa told LNP’s Mary Ellen Wright that he and his wife, Bishnu, came to the U.S. eight years ago from Bhutan “for freedom, to be able to have a life, to learn something, technically.” They want to be a success in America, added Biswa, an employee of Lancaster County Motors.

Their 6-year-old son, Matthias, grinned as he waved two American flags in the courthouse hallway.

“We’re proud and excited,” Bishnu Biswa said.

We commend the Biswas and the other new citizens for taking the correct path to citizenship. The system does work.

Naturalized citizens, unless they qualify for an exemption, must take and pass an English and civics test. Some of the new citizens — perhaps most — had to learn English before doing so.

We praise them for making that effort, on top of their other responsibilities, and also want to thank everyone who helped them through every step of the naturalization process.

While family members and friends of the new citizens filled half the courthouse seats during the June 14 ceremony, Nina Thanh Truong came by herself to take the oath.

“I’m very excited,” she told LNP. “My grandparents brought my ... whole family here in 2006 (from Vietnam).”

She added that she has learned English from her customers at Creative Nail Studio in Manheim, where she works.

Dar Ni Aye La, from Myanmar (formerly Burma), came to the U.S. from Thailand seven years ago.

“We lived in a refugee camp for 20 years” in Thailand, La said, because of political unrest.

His wife, Eh Ku Thaw, also became a citizen with him.

Rachel Bofuasini Bunkete, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, came to Lancaster five years ago, with the help of Church World Service.

“I wanted to be here,” Bunkete told LNP. “There’s freedom, it’s safe, there’s opportunity. My kids could get a good education.”

“There was war (in Congo),” Bunkete, a machine operator for Anvil International in Columbia, added. “They were killing, raping the women, right up to now.”

She has two children here and an adult son still in Africa. Bunkete hopes he will be able to join her eventually.

“It’s wonderful,” Juan De Jesus Moronta Rosado told LNP’s Wright after taking the oath. He emigrated from the Dominican Republic 20 years ago, having studied English in his native country, to join his mother in New York. He’s lived in Lancaster five years.

“Everything has been great for me here,” Rosado said.

“This has been a long journey for you,” Judge James P. Cullen, who administered the oath, told the group. “You have had to adjust to a new language, a new culture, and perhaps a new political system.

“We are extremely pleased that you have chosen to join us. You have an opportunity, now, as a citizen of the United States, to take full part in our political life. ... Please register and vote.”

We strongly urge our new citizens to follow the judge’s advice by registering to vote and participating fully in our democracy.

In addition, we believe it’s imperative that the American public as a whole become better educated in basic civics and how our government operates.

A poll last year by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation showed that only 36% of 1,000 adults surveyed would pass a basic, multiple-choice U.S. citizenship test, modeled after the one taken by immigrants during naturalization. Would each of us be among them?

We strongly endorse the teaching of civics in schools. In classrooms and beyond, we must all remain educated participants in the life of our democracy and bring to that engagement the same pride and enthusiasm that these newest citizens exemplify.