March 26, 2024
Soldier takes raises hand and takes Oath with other new citizens
Private First Class Jahvaughn Chedale Gabbidon says Pledge of Allegiance with fellow new citizens at U.S. Naturalization Ceremony in Camden on March 20, 2024.

Private First Class Jahvaughn Chedale Gabbidon achieved his dream of becoming a U.S. citizen after serving nearly two years in the U.S. Army.

“I decided to become a [U.S.] citizen because I want to be a part of America,” the Jamaica native said.

Suren Theshan Rajakaruna from Sri Lanka decided to naturalize after coming to the U.S. as a student and living here for 20 years. For him, obtaining citizenship was a means to participate in the democratic process and contribute to his community.

He said, “[Becoming a U.S. citizen] is one way for me to give back, express my voice, and be part of the decision-making. It’s something that I never had the opportunity to do.”

Their stories echo those of the 40 individuals from 20 different countries who joined them in becoming U.S. citizens at Rutgers Law in Camden on March 20. This is the second year Rutgers Law held a naturalization ceremony. The first ceremony was so moving that it motivated Rutgers Law student Nayomi Torres-Velez `24 to organize this year’s event with fellow law student Kee Min `24.

“In 2023, I had the privilege of attending a naturalization ceremony hosted by the Immigrant Justice Clinic, where one of the clients I previously assisted became a naturalized citizen,” she said. “This experience, along with my ongoing involvement with the clinic, highlighted to me the importance of the naturalization process to immigrants, as well as the need for a community celebration of this significant achievement.”

A celebration with family and friends is very much in order. As Rutgers Immigrant Community Assistance Project Managing Attorney Jason Hernandez pointed out in his remarks, the immigration process is not easy.

“According to the American Immigration Council, as of 2024 there are approximately 7.4 million immigrants who are eligible to naturalize in the United States but have not yet done so,” he said. “Despite that statistic, here you are. As so many still journey toward the horizon, I hope you will reflect positively on the grit and perseverance it took to arrive at this point and feel proud.”

Judge shakes woman's hand at ceremony
Hon. Chief Judge Renée Marie Bumb `87 (right) presided over U.S. Naturalization Ceremony.

The Oath was administered by Rutgers Law alumna and Hon. Chief Judge Renée Marie Bumb `87, U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. The ceremony also included remarks from the former Associate Dean for Students Affairs in Camden, Louis Thompson, who urged the newly minted citizens to seize the opportunities afforded by citizenship and contribute to the nation's progress without delay.

We citizens must always do what we can to be sure it is a dream everyone here has and can make come true,” he said. “Seize the opportunities and exercise the duties citizenship affords you. Help make the choices that face this nation. Make yourself heard, and please don’t wait.”

To that end, a voter registration drive was held following the ceremony for the second annual event. Field Director Keith Dorr, of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Mount Laurel Field Office, also returned as emcee with his staff collaborating on the ceremony.

Immigrant Justice Clinic Director Joanne Gottesman came up with the idea for the Clinic to host an oath ceremony and gave the opening remarks.

“One of the privileges and pleasures of my job as an immigration attorney is the opportunity to listen and hear my clients’ stories. And sometimes I even get to help them tell their stories. And those stories are amazing.” She added, “To those of you taking the oath today – and changing your names today – I don’t know your stories. But I can feel them filling this room to the rafters. And I am honored to have the opportunity to share this brief moment in your immigration story with you.”

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Rutgers Law Media Contact:
Shanida Carter

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