America’s newest citizens took an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution in West Palm Beach Friday in the wake of President Donald Trump’s orders to begin one of the toughest immigration crackdowns in the nation’s modern history. Emotions unfurled and rippled over faces like the waving colors of a flag.
With the one-sentence, 140-word oath, Carino Severino became a U.S. citizen with 447 others from 64 countries on the grounds of the South Florida Fair. She came from Mexico at age four, she said.
“I’m happy,” said Severino, 24, a teacher from Fellsmere in Indian River County. “I feel like I’m an American now.”
At the same time, she said, “I’m scared. I don’t want my family and friends to be sent back to Mexico.”
The citizenship ceremony took on deeper meaning for many after President Trump signed executive orders Wednesday to beef up enforcement efforts to identify and deport illegal immigrants, cut off money to sanctuary cities and begin construction of a wall on the Mexican border.
A number of new citizens said they agreed with Trump’s policies, including reported plans to freeze legal immigration from many countries including refugees from Syria.
“I feel it’s great,” said Daniel Cohen, 56, from Boca Raton. Married for 25 years with four children, he said he comes from a part of the world where terrorism is unfortunately all too common: “I’m an Israeli Jew.”
The policies also met with approval from Lorrice and Issa Carraha, who celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary in April. It will be their first as U.S. citizens. She is 80, originally from Jamaica. He is 87, and from Haiti.
“I totally agree with that,” Lorrice Carraha said of the crackdown on illegal immigration. “It was my dream to come here,” she said, but she wanted to do so legally.
Her husband said, “You must obey the law, and follow the Constitution.”
The oath was taken in public on the grounds of the South Florida Fair, 10 miles west of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago part-time residence in Palm Beach. Such ceremonies often features a recorded video message from the sitting U.S. president. None was available from Trump so soon after his inauguaration.
Still, his unseen presence loomed large.
Trump made immigration a headline-grabbing focus on his campaign from the moment of his announcement speech, bluntly calling out Mexicans who entered the country illegally.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said. “They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Trump continued, “It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably — probably — from the Middle East. But we don’t know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don’t know what’s happening. And it’s got to stop and it’s got to stop fast.”
The number of people becoming citizens Friday became something of a moving target, announced at 446 on Thursday, then 449 Friday and 448 by the time the ceremony started. There was even a table with a handwritten sign that said “triage” to handle last-minute issues, as candidates stood in line for processing before the ceremony.
Elodia Peyrefitte, 61, who came from Belize to become a U.S. citizen, said she felt a complicated set of emotions herself.
“It’s being happy and sad at the same time,” she said. She felt happy for herself, she said, but sad her late husband could not be there too.
“And I do feel sad for millions who might not be able to become citizens like me,” she said.