86 people become new American citizens during Butler County ceremony

It’s been a six-year journey for Alain Oyeh to become an American citizen, one that was finally completed Thursday.

The Fairfield resident and Cameroon native was one of 86 people who took the oath of citizenship at the Miami University Regionals campus in Hamilton. Oyeh said the day “means a lot.”

“There’s a lot of opportunities here. Being an American citizen you get to do anything you want to do in the world,” said the nursing student at Miami University Hamilton. “This is a day I get to experience freedom … and I get to vote, too.”

And many of the new citizens registered to vote, like Oyeh, immediately following the ceremony.

Miami University has celebrated Citizenship and Democracy Week on its regional and main campuses this week, and Thursday’s naturalization ceremony is the marquee event. It’s the second time the ceremony has been held on the university’s Hamilton campus.

Today represents a “defining moment” in the lives of the new citizens, but it is also a learning opportunity for the students on Miami’s campus, said Daniel Hall, Miami Hamilton professor of Justice and Community Studies.

“It is such an emotional event, and it gives our students an opportunity to reflect, particularly as native-born citizens, and what it means to be a citizens and how you define your own identity within your nation,” he said.

Miami University President Dr. Gregory Crawford, whose wife Renate is a naturalized citizen, compared citizenship to a quilt, rather than a melting pot, "whose beauty depends on the variegation" in its pattern.

“Naturalized citizens have significant contributors to our society, from Albert Einstein to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright,” Crawford said. “Our innovation, our success and our dedication to founding principles to freedom and equality are strengthened by bringing together a broad diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, cultures and ideas. As our national motto says, ‘E pluribus unum,’ from many, one.”

Given the public and often contentious debate nationally on immigration, Miami University political science professor John Forren said, “This is a day where we can celebrate citizenship and celebrate what it means to be an American citizen.”

U.S. District Court of Southern Ohio Magistrate Judge Stephanie Bowman, a former immigration attorney, delivered the oath of citizenship to 86 people from 38 countries. Many of those taking the oath Thursday faced hardships and challenges in their journey to citizenship, she said.

“I know that you honor, respect and take great pride in the freedom and rights that come with being a United States citizen — things natural-born citizens often take for granted.”

This class of new citizens is now eligible to register to vote in the upcoming November presidential election.

Larry Williams, of West Chester Twp., is a native of Canada, and will now hold dual citizenship. He had been in the country for 17 years and decided to become a U.S. citizen so he could vote this November.

”I wasn’t planning on becoming a citizen, but given the current election I thought I should do my civic duty and vote in the election,” he said.

When asked which issues drove him to the decision, he said, “Let’s not go there.”

Being in the United States is “a privilege to be here, especially given the current political climate,” said Sara Al-Zubi is a Miami University student in Oxford who lives in Cincinnati. And it will be her civic duty, as well as the other new citizens, “to give back to this country the way it’s given to us.”

As Miami University celebrates citizenship and democracy this week, Al-Zubi said, “This is really an important time in the way the country’s moving.”

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