A Halftime Show to Remember

Forget baseball and apple pie – when it comes to quintessentially American icons, it’s hard to top the fervor generated by the National Football League, or NFL. Founded in 1920 in Canton, Ohio, the NFL generates billions of dollars a year through game tickets, team merchandise, and ad revenue. As summer turns to fall every year, millions of fans file into stadiums or stay glued to their televisions on Sunday afternoons so they can rabidly cheer for their favorite teams. And while soccer may arguably be the most popular global sport, the distinct savagery and pageantry of the NFL is what dominates stateside. Since the sport is such an enduring American symbol, it seems that a football stadium would be a fitting venue to welcome newly naturalized citizens into our realm. But somehow, that never happened – until one mid-December Sunday.

A group of 65 immigrants participated in a naturalization ceremony, on December 17, 2018, during halftime as the Jacksonville Jaguars battled the Washington Redskins. The newly minted citizens took their oath of allegiance on the 50-yard line of TIAA Field in downtown Jacksonville, Florida, in a ceremony held in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and the federal judges of the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Florida. The immigrants, who ranged in age from teenagers to senior citizens and hailed from a collective total of 38 countries, were naturalized in front of thousands of fans in the stands, many of whom gave them a standing ovation. [See 65 People Become U.S. Citizens at Jaguars Game by Teresa Stepzinski, First Coast News, 17.Dec.2018.]

U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard, who administered the naturalization oath, noted before the ceremony began that the unique setting of the naturalization ceremony was a welcome change of pace. “As the daughter of naturalized citizens, I have always found naturalization ceremonies to be incredibly meaningful, and over the years, our court has tried to expand the educational experience of attending a naturalization ceremony to larger audiences. We are so pleased that the Jaguars share our appreciation for these important ceremonies.” The new citizens were also aware of the historical significance of the event. Oscar Naranjo, who participated in the naturalization ceremony on TIAA field, told News 4 Jax, “With the crowd cheering, people standing up and respecting the flag, the country, I think all of us felt that on the field. It was nice and welcome.” [See 65 People Become U.S. Citizens at the Jaguars Game by staff writer, News4Jax, 16.Dec.2018.]

The naturalization ceremony in Jacksonville in December is believed to be the first ever conducted on a football field, and the resulting publicity is shining a welcome light on a rarely seen element of our nation’s civics. But we should also remember that thousands of immigrants become citizens every year without the same fanfare, taking their oath in aging courthouses and under the fluorescent lights of USCIS field offices, as they look ahead to a better life. While they might not have the support of an entire football stadium, these citizens are just as capable of achieving the American dream.


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