ABC’s Jeffrey Kofman on Becoming an American Citizen

By Sadie Bass

Feb 25, 2010 5:28pm

On February 25, 2010, Jeffrey Kofman, ABC’s Miami-based Correspondent for Florida, the Caribbean and Latin America, became a U.S. citizen. Kofman was born in Toronto, Canada. He moved to the United States in 1997 and joined ABC News in 2001. He was asked to deliver the keynote address to the 224 other New Americans who were sworn in at the same ceremony at the Miami headquarters of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Here are his remarks: We are now Americans. We ARE Americans. To all of you – all 224 of you – congratulations! While today’s ceremony makes it official, the significance of this moment actually hit me about six weeks ago, when I came to this same building  for my citizenship interview.  There I sat in the waiting room, perhaps with some of you along with many others.  I could tell some were anxious and nervous, awaiting what I sensed was the most important test of their lives. I heard my name called out and I was ushered into my interview to be quizzed by a friendly but no-nonsense immigration officer. She went through the same routine that all of you now know. Had I ever been a member of the Communist Party? No. Had I ever been a War Criminal? No. The questions continued. I answered them honestly and appropriately. Then I was asked to read a sentence to prove my literacy:  ABRAHAM LINCOLN WAS PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, or something like that. Then I was asked to write a sentence.  I think it was something about George Washington. And then history quiz. I knew I had to get six out of ten right. I am journalist. I grew up in Canada, English is my native language. So, the process was less daunting for me than it might have been for others. And it helps that I’ve reported and written on American politics. But I humbly did not want to take to take this important moment for granted. And so, like you, I studied the 100 possible questions in the booklet we were all given. For me, the answers to most of the questions were familiar. And so when I was asked to name one of the two biggest rivers in the United States, I confidently responded: Mississippi. When I was asked to name the Speaker of the House of Representatives, no problem. I knew that too:  Nancy Pelosi. But when I was asked what the first ten amendments to the constitution are called, I was glad I had studied, because I confess I did not know the answer to that question until I did my home work: The Bill of Rights. I was beginning to have fun. I began to feel like a contestant on a TV game show. And I guess in a certain way that’s what we all were. In this case the prize behind Door #1 is the passport so much of the world can only dream of. Like all of you, I passed. I got the first six questions right.  But I suddenly found myself wanting to answer more questions to prove my worthiness.  So I was a little disappointed when I didn’t get to answer questions 7, 8, 9 and 10. Clearly, the process only needed correct answers for six questions, so no more were asked. When the interview was over the immigration officer reached to the far side of her desk and grabbed a bulky rubber stamp. I watched as it hit the paper. When she lifted it, it left behind a big red imprint. In the middle, the single word “APPROVED.” As I looked at my application and at the bright red stamp, it hit me.  I am now an American. And at that very moment I wondered how many people before all of us have put so much of their future on that red stamp and that single word: APPROVED. Surely over the last two centuries it is in the tens of millions, if not well over a hundred a million. I did some checking, I didn’t find one number, but I did find the often-quoted number from Ellis Island, the great immigration clearing house in New York Harbor that is now a museum.  From 1892 to 1924, 22 million immigrants passed through its doors. I presume many of them, like us, became citizens. A better number comes from the most recent census: in 2000, 12.5 million Americans had – like us – been naturalized.  The census being conducted this year will, without doubt, find a much bigger number. I know that at least some of you came from lives of hardship to realize this day and this dream. But think for a moment about the people of previous generations who achieved this day. For them U.S. citizenship in a significant way marked the end to nightmares and violations of dignity that we can only begin to imagine. I think it is fair to say that what drew you and me and all of those before us to this country and this moment is a simple concept that we can all understand and share. It is summarized in a single word: FREEDOM. Perhaps it was to escape a state of oppression, or extreme poverty, corruption, or violations of human rights. Or perhaps, as in my case, you simply came here to pursue a dream. What we all share is a thirst for Freedom: a desire to live as we want, without unreasonable interference, without unfair obstacles. A dream that through determination and hard work we can rise to a level we deserve. But let me remind you on this important day, that the privileges we have just earned come with responsibility. • You can now vote.  Freedom in this country means you don’t have to. But having worked this hard to become an American citizen, I believe it would be a terrible waste to suddenly take it for granted. And so I challenge all of you to vote in every election you are eligible.  Whether it is city, state or federal. I am not going to tell you who to vote for, which party to vote for. That is for you to decide.  But do your homework. Do your duty. • With Freedom Comes yet another responsibility and now that you are American citizens you have a special duty to remember it.  You know that it is the laws of the land that make it possible for all of us live in harmony.  There is no excuse for breaking those laws or pushing the boundaries to get ahead. • And there’s one more aspect of Freedom that I want to emphasize because it worries me in this country. Please, remember that your freedom and mine are only valuable if they respect the freedom of others. I worry that, especially when it comes to politics, people have stopped listening to different opinions, stopped respecting the right to different opinions. Whatever your political views, your religious views, your views on the President, the wars overseas, abortion, gays in the military, please remember that Freedom requires that we listen to each other, respect each other and seek common ground that reflects the intentions of the Founding Fathers of this country.  Now that you and I are American citizens, we too can work to respect the Freedom of all Americans and the right to Freedom of all people on this earth. So those are just some of the challenges ahead for all of us as New Americans. But today let’s all celebrate a time-honored ritual that has granted us a status and security that most on this planet will never have. Together we come from 37 different countries. [Albania (1), Argentina (7), Azerbaijan (1), Bahamas (1), Belgium (1), Bolivia (3), Brazil (5), Canada (2), Chile (3), People's Republic of China (1), Colombia (31), Costa Rica (1), Cuba (55), Dominican Republic (8), Ecuador (2), El Salvador (3), France (2), Guatemala (2), Haiti (22), Honduras (4), India (1), Israel (5), Italy (5), Jamaica (1), Mexico (1), Morocco (1), Nicaragua (21), Pakistan (1), Panama (1), Peru (8), Russia (3), Singapore (1), Spain (3), Syria (1), The Gambia (1), Ukraine (1), and Venezuela (13).] I looked closely at the list and I am privileged to say that I have visited 29 of those 37 countries. Gambia, Albania, Syria, Azerbaijan and Morocco are all places I hope to visit one day. Let me remind you that while we will now all be able to carry American passports, there is no shame in this country for being proud of where you come from.  I know that l am being torn this very week,  as I watch the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver as Canada and the U.S. face each other on the hockey rink. Before I finish I want to say one more thing. From the very beginning of this citizenship process, I have been impressed and inspired by the efficiency of the system and the courtesy and professionalism of the people who represent the U.S. government here. We all know that bashing government and government workers is a national pastime in this country and in many others. I think it’s important to give credit and praise where credit and praise are due.  And so an American citizen, to the people of the Miami office of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, I say thank you for doing your jobs so well on behalf of the people of the United States. That said, to my fellow new Americans  — my fellow Americans — and your loved ones who are here to celebrate with you. Congratulations. May you and your families go forward from this day and live your American Dream. Thank you.

You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus