Immigrants naturalized at Citizens Bank Park

Nearly 20 foreign natives earned citizenship before Tuesday’s Mets game.

Last Tuesday evening, 19 immigrants were officially naturalized as U.S. citizens during a ceremony at Citizens Bank Park. Before the first pitch against the Mets, the individuals, who originated from 12 nations from around the world, were celebrated by the ballpark. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

From Burma to Belgium, natives of countries across the globe gathered on the field of Citizens Bank Park this week.

The 19 immigrants originating from 12 countries were not solely there to soak in the final few Phillies home games but also to celebrate their recent citizenship to the United States.

Prior to being honored before the first pitch, the individuals officially pledged their allegiance to a new nation during the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Naturalization Ceremony held at the ballpark.

“Our legacy, as an organization, which started many, many years ago, is really rooted in one thing — and that really is family and the ability of baseball to bring people together,” Kathy Killian, vice president of human resources with the Phillies, told the citizenship candidates. “What we have in our reputation is a warm, kind, collaborative, inclusive environment here at Citizens Bank Park. We hope that you’ll feel that tonight as you experience this beautiful celebration.”

Ranging in ages, occupations and reasons for immigration, the honorees are only a fraction of folks who seek citizenship in the United States each year. Over the past 10 years, the USCIS granted the privilege to more than 7.4 million people, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The Metropolitan area of the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania regions accounts for about 16.3 percent of all naturalized individuals.

And according to a 2016 analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts, in Philadelphia alone, 15 percent of the city’s population is foreign born — the highest figure since World War II.

“The fact that you’ve chosen us, you’ve chosen this country, is a wonderful, wonderful thing,” Mayor Jim Kenney told the crowd. “…We want you here. We need you here. We can’t grow our city, our country without you and your families.”

Kenney stressed that, aside from indigenous people, the majority of Americans are immigrants.

Whether escaping religious persecution 600 years ago, or just arriving in the U.S. for jobs today, a recurring theme has resounded among newcomers for centuries.

The Filipino-American daughter of one of the evening’s 19 citizenship candidates listens to the National Anthem before the first pitch against the Mets last week.(GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

“We started coming here because it’s a land of opportunity. It’s basically for work,” new citizen Lucille Castaneda of the Philippines told SPR. “We had an opportunity to work here and to raise our family. … We love the country, and we love staying here. Our friends here have become our family, as well. It’s a pleasure to be a citizen in this country.”

Both Castaneda and her husband feel the United States is an ideal country to raise their infant and young child — a notion echoed by others.

“My kids — I just want them to grow here,” added Emeterio Mahea of the Dominican Republic. “It’s a wonderful country compared to mine. … There’s always opportunity to move on anywhere you want — either being political or just at work. We have the opportunity to choose where we want to work at. It’s so big — you can pick whatever you want.”

Toward the conclusion of the ceremony, the individuals conducted their oath of allegiance followed by the Pledge of Allegiance before eventually making their way to the field.

Supported by both Phillies and Mets fans in the stands, the new citizens were greeted by the Phillie Phanatic, as the honorees marked their inaugural moments as Americans on the MLB diamond in the birthplace city of this nation.

“Each of you had your own story as to why you chose to immigrate to the United States,” Kathleen Bausman, a local field officer director for USCIS, told the citizens. “For many, it was to join your family, for others, a better quality of life, for some to flee persecution — whatever your reason, the United States is a better place with your presence.”