DETROIT (WXYZ) — 17 Michigan residents are now US citizens after a naturalization ceremony during halftime of today’s Detroit Pistons game.
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris was also in attendance for the ceremony, meeting with young kids before the game.
A moment years in the making, these metro Detroiters became US citizens in front of their hometown Pistons crowd, in a one-of-a-kind halftime ceremony.
"I can say in my 21 years as a judge, this is the first time I’ve never held court on a court," said Judge David Lawson of the US Eastern District Court.
Spread out in masks, the new citizens took center court. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services says it's gotten creative with ceremonies for the past year, as they deal with COVID-19.
“It's great, I'm happy it’s happening at this place," said new citizen Aurelio Mendez. "My family is watching so it's an extra support for me.”
Mendez was born in Mexico and now lives in Ypsilanti. He’s been in the country for nearly a decade with his family, earning his degree and waiting to become a citizen.
“It mean it’s everything," Mendez said. "I've been working for this for 8 years and now my voice is finally going to count, I can vote in a federal election.”
Mendez says COVID delayed his citizenship for close to a year. Nationwide, naturalizations fell 26% in fiscal year 2020.
Manuel Roque, also from Mexico, is a DACA recipient, known as a Dreamer. He and his family came here 20 years ago. On Wednesday night, their dream was finally reached.
“As long as you’re willing to reach for that dream. If there's a will there's a way,” Roque said. "It was my parents' dream, now it’s my dream. It’s becoming a reality.”
Prior to the pandemic, naturalizations saw an 11% increase from 2018 to 2019.