Remarks by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at a Military Naturalization Ceremony

(DHS) Well, I want to thank Director Gonzalez for inviting me to host this very meaningful ceremony and for his kind of words of introduction. I want to thank General Schoomaker for hosting this as well as all the members of the staff of Walter Reed for the work they do every day, day in and day out, to serve our warriors who come back from the battlefield. And, I want to thank the four service members, three soldiers and one Marine that have become the new American citizens today.

This ceremony is probably one of the most enjoyable duties that I’ve had the opportunity to perform in any public capacity. And, it certainly gives all of us quite a bit to think about when we think about the meaning of citizenship and what these young men and women have gone through to become American citizens.

You know, Eduardo and Angel were born in Mexico, Dwishnicka was born in Haiti, and Carlos was born in Portugal. In many ways, they reflect the face of America. As the Latin saying says, e pluribus unum; out of the many, one. And, the genius of this country, as reflected in today’s ceremony, is that we are able to assemble from around the world those who are the most noble, the most courageous and the most worthwhile, bring them, with their very diverse backgrounds, into the single unity of American citizenship where they each contribute something unique to making this country what it is.

In this case, each of our new citizens not only came to America, but actually came and joined our armed forces. Each of them went to Iraq. And today, each of them now have the opportunity to be citizens of the country they have served so well. For family members who are here, I know this is a wonderful day; you must be very proud, and I offer you my congratulations and my best wishes for what I hope will be a raucous celebration when the ceremony is over.

You know, it is a ceremony like this that causes us to think about what a great privilege it is to be an American. And, it might be said that those who are born here probably appreciate less than those who come voluntarily how meaningful it is to be an American. But, one thing I can tell you is that people around the world struggle to become Americans, and I think the four here who have become citizens today reflect some of the reasons why that struggle is a benefit to this country.

This country has always been a beacon of freedom, opportunity and hope for a better life. And by any measure, America has brought untold blessings to people who have come here and made this country their home. But it’s also true that immigrants have been a blessing to America. From the beginning, proud immigrants have blessed our economy, enriched our culture and strengthened our communities. But, of all those who come from around the world to be citizens, you four who have become citizens today have done something even more.

In the oath you took today, you swore to do what you already have done, which is to put on the uniform of our country’s armed forces and serve to defend her freedom. Before you became citizens you stepped forward to defend the country that you love, and before you took your oath today you were fulfilling it every single day on the battlefields of Iraq. You put duty, you put honor, and you put country ahead of yourselves. You put your life, and your safety on the line for millions of Americans that you’ve never even met, and you’ve proven yourself willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for this country.

On behalf of the President, and a grateful nation, once again, I thank you deeply for your sacrifice. I also wanted to note with gratitude that the President has helped make this wonderful day possible. Some of you may know that less than a year after September the 11th, the President issued an executive order rewarding service such as that rendered here with an expedited route to citizenship.

And again, I want to address those who are working here at Walter Reed. Thank you for continuing your strong commitment to the important work that you do, notwithstanding some of the current difficulties. Thank you for the way in which you commit yourself to the honorable tradition of caring for brave heroes like those that we’ve sworn in today and everybody else who is in this compound. These are all men and women who have paid a price in the course of serving their country.

The President has rightly stated that we have a moral obligation to provide the best possible care and treatment to every single serviceperson who walks through these doors, and I am confident that whatever the challenges this hospital has faced in the past, those challenges will be surmounted and that when the dust settles, Walter Reed will emerge a stronger, better place to serve courageous men and women like those being honored here today.

One of the reasons I am confident in that is because I know it’s part of our national character as Americans to view problems as not only challenges, but as opportunities, opportunities to do better and make our world better. That’s why after we were attacked on September 11th we resolved not only to defend ourselves from further attacks and to defeat our enemies, but to take up leadership in the fight for the right of others to enjoy the very same freedoms that we do ourselves.

Today, more than five years after September 11th as we stand on the front lines in the war against terror, Americans like these continue to defend our ideals and to ensure that freedom’s blessings extend around the world for generations to come. So, for those who have been sworn in as citizens today, we’re honored that you’ve joined us in carrying out this sacred mission, we’re grateful for your service, moved by your sacrifice, inspired by your courage, and humbled by your devotion to your adopted home.

Today you have become citizens of that home, citizens with equal stature, and equal rights with everybody else who is an American citizen. You know, one of the things that might be said about this country is that we’re all guests here, we’re all joined here, and we’re all on equal footing. There’s nobody here who is the landlord. We are all common owners of this country, and you have now assumed part of that common ownership and part of that stake in this great land.

So, on behalf of President Bush, let me again congratulate you. Let me again thank you, once more, on behalf of the country. God bless you. God bless all of your family members and loved ones, and God bless America.