The United States is a nation of immigrants. Utah is not only a state made richer by the diversity of what immigrants have brought here, it is also a place where past refugees fleeing persecution found a safe haven. Most of us — even if we are fifth- and sixth-generation Utahns – know what it is to apply our experience and skills to build a new life.
As citizens, we may take all the blessings and benefits of citizenship for granted. But visit any naturalization ceremony — where people of all ages, ethnicities, cultures and countries — take the oath of citizenship together and you’ll be deeply moved by what you see. Their happiness and pride radiates, as they recite the pledge of allegiance and officially gain the title “Americans.”
September 17 is Constitution and Citizenship Day. It marks the exact day, in 1787, when the Founding Fathers signed the U.S. Constitution. For new citizens, it is the foundation from which all the benefits and privileges of citizenship extend.
There are approximately 8.8 million people in the U.S. who are eligible to become naturalized citizens immediately. The cities and towns we live in are growing richer — in every sense of the word — because of the immigrants who live here and who are continuously expanding the idea of what it is to be an American.
In Salt Lake County there are an estimated 25,000 individuals eligible to naturalize. We are standing together to support immigrants and their path to citizenship through an initiative known as “Cities for Citizenship” — a joint project of the National Partnership for New Americans, the Center for Popular Democracy and Citi Community Development. We are working together – business and government – to reach out to other businesses, nonprofits and local governments to coordinate citizenship workshops, conduct outreach and encourage those eligible to apply for citizenship to do so.
Data from 2014 shows that immigrants in the Salt Lake County contributed $8 billion to the metro area’s economy and held $2.3 billion in spending power. They have been and will be tremendous contributors to our economy and to our communities. They open small businesses, create jobs, work for companies that require their skills and expertise, buy cars and homes, send their children to college and bring vibrancy to our neighborhoods and cities through new festivals, cultural events and customs. As new Americans, they take the right to vote very seriously and become civically active at all levels of government.
At this moment in our history, it is worth remembering the principles upon which this country was built and those that are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, particularly the notion of equal opportunity and the freedom to work hard and build our own prosperity and give something back to this great country.
If you have been looking for a way to express support for immigrants in the community and to lend a welcoming hand, please consider how you can become a partner in the effort to encourage eligible immigrants to gain the rights and responsibilities that come with American citizenship and to invest in the future strength of our community.
Ben McAdams is the mayor of Salt Lake County. Alan Rindlisbacher is director of corporate communications for Layton Construction Company.