U.S. adds 22 new citizens during Thursday ceremony

Billings Gazette

by Mike Ferguson

Promising to take up arms or perform non-combatant service in defense of their new nation, among other things, 22 people from 15 countries became naturalized citizens of the United States on Thursday in a packed federal courtroom in Billings.

“I am feeling very accomplished,” said Souleymane Diedhiou from Senegal, who played basketball at Montana Western and became a U.S. citizen in order to enter the law enforcement profession.

He said friends and family in his country of birth have been calling all day to voice support for his newly granted American citizenship.

“My phone has been blowing up,” he said with a laugh.

Last year, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, nearly 730,000 immigrants became U.S. citizens, including 248 in Montana, where naturalization ceremonies are held three times each year.

“I always get kind of teary at these events, because this country is such an amalgam of people,” said U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn S. Ostby, who presided over the ceremony. “We are watching the country continue to be formed.”

While Ostby said she’s “always a little startled” to hear what’s required by agreeing to the oath of allegiance, she also noted what’s not found in the oath.

“You don’t have to give up your love for the land you’re from, forgetting or denying your cultural heritage,” she told the nation’s newest citizens. In the aftermath of this week’s massacre in Orlando, “it’s even more critical to be kind to each other. With your unique perspectives, you can set an example of compassion and tolerance.”

Representatives of all three members of Montana’s congressional delegation sent their congratulations. Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said in a letter that “democracy loses its luster when we choose not to participate.” His Republican colleague, Steve Daines, said America’s strength “has always come from its willingness to welcome people from all over the world.” U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, a Republican, called U.S. citizenship “a much sought-after privilege.”

That’s been the case for Tashya Melville-Graham, a Billings-based Americorps VISTA volunteer from Jamaica who wants to attend law school and hold office one day. Like Diedhiou, she needed citizenship to attain her goal.

“I teared up today, especially during the ‘Star-Spangled Banner,” as performed by Julia Ragland, of Custer, Melville-Graham said. “I love the U.S. regime, and I believe everything it stands for. I feel like my possibilities and opportunities have just doubled becoming a U.S. citizen.”