Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
Los Angeles, California
July 19, 2023
Thank you, District Director John Kramar, for that kind introduction and for bringing us together. And thank you, Ambassador Hachigian, for joining us today.
To our newest citizens, to my fellow Americans: It is an honor to be with you and your family and friends on this special, special day.
You hail from 30 different countries, from Belize to Brazil, Canada to China, Nicaragua to Nigeria – from nearly every corner of the globe. And today, you follow in the footsteps of millions of immigrants who came before you who took the very same oath you just took.
It’s the oath that I took when I became a member of the Foreign Service, the same oath that I take when I am sworn in as a U.S. ambassador. And it is an extraordinarily meaningful thing to take that oath.
No other nation in the world welcomes as many immigrants as the United States. And unless you are Native American – or you came here as a slave, as my ancestors did – your family has an immigration story.
Some immigrants come here as children before their first memories are even formed. Some come later in life, often to join loved ones who have already found their way to America. Some come in search of opportunity with little to their name, but with their heart set on achieving the American dream. Some come as refugees fleeing unthinkable persecution and violence.
Whenever I travel – whether it’s at home or abroad – I make it my mission to meet with refugees and immigrants. So again, being part of this ceremony today is extraordinary. And later today, I will sit down with a family that came to Los Angeles from Afghanistan three years ago. And I’ll meet with the organization, Miry’s List, that has helped them to resettle.
It’s important for me to hear their stories, to hear your stories, to hear the struggles and the dreams of the newest arrivals on our shores and to lift up these stories, including at the United Nations.
Today, nearly 110 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced: 110 million people. That’s more than many countries around the world. Russia’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine has created a refugee crisis. And instability in Sudan, in Somalia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere has displaced millions more.
The international community has a responsibility to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable. For our part, the Biden Administration has committed to rebuilding our Refugee Admissions Program. And just this year, we’ve launched the Welcome Corps – the boldest innovation in U.S. resettlement in four decades.
This is about continuing the American tradition of welcoming refugees. This is about living up to our highest ideals.
Now, over the past 246 years, we’ve not always lived up to those ideals. And part of what makes this country great is that we can admit that. But at our best, we welcome those yearning to be free. And we are stronger for it.
After all, immigrants are entrepreneurs. You’re coming up with technological breakthroughs. You’re nurses, caring for the sick. You’re teachers. You’re educating our youth. You’re service members defending our security and our freedom, at great personal risk and sacrifice. You’re ambassadors. You’re some of the members of my staff who are refugees who are representing the best the United States has to offer at the United Nations.
But most importantly, they are you. And I don’t know what it is that you all do, but right now you have possibilities to do whatever it is you want to do. I know the road to today has not been easy. That is an understatement. Many of you have had to wait years and years and jump through bureaucratic hurdles. And some of you have faced xenophobic attacks that run contrary to our nation’s values.
But you are here. You made it. And that is a testament to your strength and your perseverance. And it is also a testament to our values as a nation.
Today, in becoming an American citizen, you’ve taken on a set of sacred responsibilities: To be an active participant in democracy. To vote, to serve others, to call out injustice.
And while you’re now American citizens, I actually encourage you never to forget where you came from. Don’t forget your roots, your unique culture and your heritage and your history. I encourage you to share that with your neighbors and your friends, to share your culture and your background with all of us.
And, as someone who represents this country on the world stage, I encourage you to stay engaged on global affairs. From food insecurity to the climate crisis to protracted conflicts, there is no shortage of global challenges that demand our attention.
America is a nation that leads, that rises to all of these challenges. And you can be part of that. You can drive change here at home and around the world.
You know, not too long ago, I had the chance to visit Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and I encourage you all to take that opportunity to do that. Both experiences for me were profoundly moving. To know that more than 12 million people passed through the doors of Ellis Island; to think about what it must have been like for a young child to see the shimmering torch of the Statue of Liberty after a long and arduous journey to America – it reminded me, as today has reminded me, that at our core, America is a nation of immigrants.
It is who we are. It is our story. It is now your story.
Congratulations, American citizens. [Applause.]