For some new American citizens, Independence Day took on a very literal meaning.
Friday's 52nd annual Naturalization Ceremony at Monticello gave 73 immigrants from 39 countries their citizenship in the United States.
"This is a real independence day for us," said Jithendra Manne, who emigrated from India and has been trying to gain citizenship for more than five years.
Manne came to America for a job, thinking he would return to India soon after. Before long, he decided to stay and build a family.
"It took a long time for me, but now I am glad I made that decision," Manne said. His wife Snigdha also gained citizenship at the ceremony.
Whether seeking citizenship for job opportunities, to follow family or to escape turmoil in their homelands, the ceremony at Thomas Jefferson's mountain top abode was a poignant scene, Manne said.
"With all this set up and everything, it made me so emotional," Manne said. "I'm not an emotional person, but once I saw all this, I felt so nice."
Hosted by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the ceremony featured a keynote address by David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, a top-ranking global asset management firm, as well as performances by Christopher Job of the Ash Lawn Opera.
All of the speakers referenced the significance of Thomas Jefferson's contributions to the foundation of America, and what he may have meant when he said "all men are created equal" in his preamble to the Declaration of Independence.
"As we move even closer to this goal, and ultimately achieve it, we owe a great deal to Thomas Jefferson for first stating so memorably what this country was intended to be," Rubenstein said in his address.
The naturalization ceremony comes at a turbulent time for immigration, as Republican House Speaker John Boehner recently announced that the GOP would not back President Barack Obama's attempts at immigration reform this year, and House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor, R-7th, a backer of immigration reform, lost in the primaries to Tea Party candidate Dave Brat.
Groups like the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights and FWD.us are trying to establish support for reform at a time when proponents say the immigration system needs an overhaul.
"We need a high wall and a wide gate and right now we have neither," said Tom Davis, chairman of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee and former 11th District representative. "Immigration is the life blood of our republic but the current system is broken and needs to be fixed."
Though reform may be stalled for the foreseeable future, this new group of citizens who have undergone the immigration process will support the notion that immigrants help Virginia's economy, according to Michel Zajur, president of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
"These new citizens' willingness to take risks translates well into the American economy and is good for business," Zajur said. "The fastest growing immigrant populations are no longer in the gateway states of New York and California - immigrants locating in Virginia help Virginia compete for the jobs of the future."
Wherever their path leads next, these 73 new citizens now have what Rubenstein called "the most precious commodity that our country can give anyone in this unrivaled democracy: citizenship."
"It's another chapter, like turning a page," said Denis Manga Tebit, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia who emigrated from Cameroon.
"It's a freer society with more opportunities, and that's what [we're] looking for."
email@example.com | 978-7268