WEST BRANCH, Iowa - While both political parties debate immigration policy, one group of newly-minted citizens is ready to weigh in.
Seventy-five eastern Iowans took part in a naturalization ceremony at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum and Library in West Branch on Friday. Such ceremonies typically take place several times a year in courtrooms. But once a year, in honor of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, the event is conducted at the Presidential museum in West Branch.
In some ways, it looked much like any naturalization event. Citizen candidates and families waved flags, took lots of photos and raised their hands when U.S. District Court Chief Magistrate Jon Scoles administered the oath of citizenship.
But several new citizens said this event came at an opportune time for them. They've watched politicians endlessly debate who should, or shouldn't, enter the country. Now, as citizens, they can vote and their voice matters.
Benjamin Paul Wood who once called the United Kingdom home was especially eager to take advantage of that right. "Oh, I shall be first in line at the polling booth to make my vote," Wood said.
Several other new citizens also said the political claims flying around in the Presidential race certainly got their attention. Raoul Sanchez-Santos came to Iowa from Mexico 20 years ago. He didn't finish the citizenship process until this summer. But he's proud he can now take part in the debate.
"It's good and proper for me to vote. People can hear my voice now that I can vote," Sanchez-Santos said.
Ousainou Keita also felt much the same. He came to Iowa City as a student in the early 1990's and stayed. But he also didn't pursue citizenship right away. Keita is particularly unhappy with some state politicians who have claimed illegal voting is a widespread problem with those who aren't citizens.
"It's good to make sure every voter is rightful and able to vote. But at the same time, you shouldn't make it difficult for citizens thinking they'll be arrested when they try to vote," Keita said.
Those new citizens who took the oath at West Branch each received a packet of information that include forms to register for social security and other programs. Voter registration cards weren't included. But several citizens said they already had those cards filled out at home and would turn them in right away to get ready to vote in November.