Taking an oath to America is the last step of a complex journey to naturalization — one that Denver has been happy to show off at public libraries and other government buildings in the past during so-called naturalization ceremonies.
But several months ago, the federal government blacklisted the city government from holding the feel-good ceremonies that showcase new citizens of the United States in Denver. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services stopped working with the city on the ceremonies after June of 2019, about two years after the city council made it illegal for Denver government employees to share information with federal immigration authorities.
New citizens don’t need a public ceremony to become citizens. They can take oaths at federal offices, which still occurs every day. But naturalization ceremonies are symbolic shows of patriotism as well as bows on a bureaucratic process, and local governments cannot hold the events without citizenship status and other information from federal immigration officials — information that they’ve stopped sharing with the Hancock administration.
“The mission of USCIS is to both celebrate American citizenship through naturalization ceremonies as well as protect the homeland by ensuring the integrity of our immigration system. Unfortunately, the City and County of Denver chooses not to work with USCIS on investigations of potential fraud, which negatively impacts USCIS’ ability to fairly and accurately adjudicate cases involving national security concerns and fraud,” said Jessica Collins, USCIS spokesperson. “Given the situation, USCIS will not be able to collaborate with the City and County of Denver to hold naturalization ceremonies until the City and County of Denver cooperates on the overall USCIS’ mission.”
City Councilwoman Jamie Torres, who formerly headed the Denver Office of Immigrant & Refugee Affairs before taking office, called the decision by USCIS “deeply disappointing.”
“We had been so intentional about celebrating naturalization and citizenship,” she told Denverite.
The blackout has so far gone unannounced.
“If we complain every single time (the Trump) administration did something that is contrary to what this city’s values are, you guys would get sick of us,” said Rowena Alegría, the city’s chief storyteller (that’s her real title).
July 6, 2019 marks the last time USCIS partnered with Denver on a ceremony, a spokeswoman for the federal immigration department said. However at least one ceremony has been held in the city on private property since then. Suburbs around Denver are still hosting the ceremonies.
Denver has partnered with USCIS on these ceremonies for years, developing cross-governmental relationships along the way, Alegría said. And then one day, they had to cut ties. She said the city continues to support and celebrate immigrants in different ways, like My City Academy, a leadership program to teach new citizens about Denver.