Claire Francoeur got her green card and moved to Montana 20 years ago from Canada. All these years later, she became a U.S. citizen on Wednesday. The final nudge came from former vice president Joe Biden.
“A few months ago, I watched Joe Biden give a speech and he said, ‘If you want to make a difference, if you’re not happy with the state that this country is in right now, you better make a change. Don’t watch from the sidelines.’ So, I went online and I filled out my application and here I am,” Francoeur said with tears in her eyes.
Francoeur works as a nurse practitioner, so knows firsthand that access to health care is a major issue in America. Now that she has the right, she plans to vote for change.
“Every single day, having been in Canada where there’s socialized medicine and practicing here, it’s really quite stunning the differences in health care. Every single day, I have patients that come in who can’t afford their medication, they can’t afford to come and see me, they can’t afford to take care of themselves,” she said.
Francoeur was one of 41 people who became citizens Wednesday morning during a ceremony in the George and Jane Dennison Theater at the University of Montana. They took the Oath of Allegiance and received their certificates of citizenship during the ceremony, along with a miniature American flags.
UM President Seth Bodnar welcomed the new Americans to campus, in what was the first naturalization ceremony ever hosted by the university.
“I see a tangible example of what we mean when we talk about this wonderful nation in which we are so privileged to live as a melting pot. I see the source of the vibrancy, the energy, the passion, the entrepreneurial spirit that has guided this country to greatness over the past two centuries and will continue to do so for many to come,” Bodnar said.Dana Christenen, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, presided over the ceremony, with other guest speakers including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Denver District director Kristi Goldinger and UM Provost Jon Harbor.
Representatives read remarks from Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte. They emphasized that the new citizens exercise their right to vote and be active in local politics.
“Immigrants like my grandparents who settled here in Montana over a century ago helped build America and make it what it is today. I know you’ll proudly follow in the footsteps of millions before you,” Tester’s representative Deborah Frandsen said.
Goldinger explained that the goal of USCIS is to promote civic integration, or encourage people to know about U.S. citizenship and make the choice to be naturalized. There are about 24 different paths a person can take to do this, Goldinger said.
The path to citizenship requires security checks and a randomly generated 100-question test on U.S. history. The Oath of Allegiance was also practiced and understood by the group beforehand.
“Really, citizenship is about opening a door for a lady who is holding a baby and is juggling all of her bags. Citizenship is about volunteering your time at a school. Citizenship is about saying thank you, good morning, and you’re welcome,” Goldinger said. “Citizenship is understanding that we all have different viewpoints and we all have different ways of thinking, and yet we can all respect each other, and at the end of the day, be friends.”
Provost Harbor also touched on his own experience with immigrating from England and becoming a citizen in the U.S.
“In 1985, I married my wife, an American citizen. Getting permission to come back to the U.S. to marry an American was one of the most complicated and involved things I have ever had to do, even more difficult than the citizenship test,” Harbor said. “But it was trivial compared to the challenges many others have faced to make their journey to America.”
For Harbor, the right to vote is what pushed him to become naturalized.
“Twenty years ago, I was living and working in the state of Indiana paying taxes, and watching what was happening in the public schools, in my country, in my state, and in the nation. I wanted to have a voice in making things better. So the No. 1 reason that I became a citizen was to vote,” he said.
Judge Christensen’s grandfather came to Missoula from Denmark in 1891. His wife was born in Canada, and became a naturalized citizen herself.
He listed the responsibilities and rights of the new citizens, including being a part of a trial jury, holding public office and others.
“Other than our proud Native American citizens, we all came to the United States from somewhere,” Christensen said. “Even though we are citizens of the United States, we are also citizens of the world. And it is your life experiences, the life experiences of the 41 of you [and] your backgrounds that you bring with you to this country, that makes a better and stronger one.”