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Immigrant Children Become U.S. Citizens at the Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo is well known for lions and tigers and bears, oh — and tourists. Today, though, the Zoo is also a place where some New York’s kids are becoming U.S. citizens. Pia Peterson spoke to some of the city’s newest and most eager young Americans today at the zoo.

PETERSON:  Marshall Valerie Francois is ten years old. He and his mom Marlene Jean-Gilles are walking right past the American Bison enclosure in the Bronx Zoo, but they don’t seem to notice the huge animals at all. Today, Marshall’s got other things on his mind. I asked him how it feels.


PETERSON: Why scary?

FRANCOIS: Cuz…I’m nervous. It’s my first time.

PETERSON 2: Marshall is being sworn in today as an American citizen, going through the same ceremony that his mom, Marlene, did last year, renouncing her Haitian citizenship.

JEAN-GILLES: I was so happy that day. January 8th, 2016. Last year. And after that, I apply for Marshall.

PETERSON: Kids who came to the states with their parents, or were adopted from abroad, can become American citizens as soon as their parents complete the lengthy citizenship process. Katie Tichacek (TIH-ha-secc) is the New York public affairs officer for US Citizenship and Immigration. Her department works with visas and green cards  – if someone in New York is getting good news about their immigration status, it’s coming from her office. Today, 32 kids from 25 countries will receive a very important piece of paper.

TICHACEK: Their certificate of citizenship. They have derived their citizenship from their parents, this is the moment that they get the actual certificate that shows that and is proof of that for the rest of their lives.

PETERSON: The certificate looks like a cross between a diploma and the photo page of your passport. It’s not just a token, it’s evidence that they’re an American. And psychologically, this is important to kids. Mahamadu Camarn family is from Gambia. And his three younger siblings are getting their citizenship today.

CAMRAN: My brother and sister, they’re the ones in the blue, the pink, and then the other blue. The one in the middle right there? Yeah.

PETERSON:  Camran is twelve years old. Today seems like a weight off his shoulders. It’s stressful for kids to worry about immigration status within their families, and Camran is very protective of his siblings.

CAMRAN: It’s important for them because like, they come…they’re immigrants, and it’s important for them not to get deported back, and it’s important for them to get like what they need and what they want.

PETERSON (off mic): Do you worry about that?

CAMRAN: Yeah, I worry. I worry about my family, of course. I have to worry about them.

PETERSON: The kids rise to pledge their loyalty to the USA with the administration of allegiance, and then US Congressman José Serrano leads them in a pledge

PETERSON: Camran slinks off to join his dad and dozens of other parents, taking photos of the kids all dressed up for the occasion, waving tiny plastic flags and beaming. And with that, 32 kids rejoin their families as official Americans, with the one little piece of paper that makes a big difference.

Pia Peterson, Columbia Radio News.


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