ACTING SECRETARY DUKE: Thank you, Archivist Ferriero.
It is a privilege for me to join you and your families today, on your first day as citizens of the United States of America.
It is especially an honor to stand here, in the Rotunda, among the Charters of Freedom, and reflect on the promise of this great nation.
For years, before I was the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, I taught civics to people preparing for their naturalization test—a test each of you knows well, and that I’m sure each of you aced.
I taught civics to immigrants because I believe in the American dream you all have pursued.
I believe in our system of government, in our laws, and in our rights and responsibilities as citizens.
I believe in tolerance, and I believe in inclusion.
I believe we all have the potential to change our country, and our communities, for the better.
And I believe it is our duty to do so.
This Sunday, we mark the 230th signing of the United States Constitution—the supreme law of the United States.
To go back to those civics lessons, the Constitution set up—and defined—the U.S. government. It also protects the fundamental rights of all Americans.
It was the first permanent written Constitution of its kind, and one that has survived for centuries. This is a remarkable accomplishment, and a testament to the strength of the so-called noble experiment.
By design, attaining citizenship in the United States is a matter of commitment and conscience, not a fact of heritage or history.
President Ronald Reagan once received a letter from a man, shortly before Reagan left office. I’d like to quote it for you now. “He wrote that you can go to live in France, but you can’t become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Italy, but you can’t become a German, an Italian.
“He went through Turkey, Greece, Japan, and other countries. But he said anyone, from any corner of the world, can come to live in the United States and become an American.”
And people have become Americans in great numbers. Over the past decade, we’ve welcomed more than 7.4 million naturalized citizens into the fabric of our nation.
In fiscal year 2016 alone, three-quarters of a million people took the same oath you did today, and over a million immigrants moved to the United States to start the journey to citizenship you are completing today.
Throughout our history, people have come to the United States in pursuit of freedom and opportunity. Whether they wanted to be free to practice their religion, free to choose their leaders, or free to speak their mind, this country is a place where freedom is a right for all of our citizens, whether natural-born or naturalized.
Over the centuries, America has been enriched by the talents, cultures, skills, ingenuity, and values brought here by immigrants. It continues to be enriched by the gifts you bring with you today.
It hasn’t always been easy. In each generation, immigrants have worked hard to find their place, and to build their own American dream. But we live in the land of opportunity, where countless immigrants have built businesses, strengthened their communities, and made their dreams come true.
Each of you have taken unique and exceptional journeys to arrive here at the National Archives today. But you are all part of a great tradition, in a great country, and we are proud to welcome you home.
In choosing to become citizens of the United States, you’ve demonstrated that you value our country. You value the rule of law. You value the time and effort it takes to do things the right way.
Your commitment to these values is a tremendous strength to this nation.
There is no question that we are living in a time of division in the world. We see demonstrations of ugliness and intolerance on our streets, on the Internet, and on the evening news.
We see that’s what’s right is not always popular, and what’s popular is not always right.
We see the censorship of controversial ideas. We see a lack of civil discourse on important topics.
We often see a race by many to label those we disagree with as evil. Or those one quarrels with as morally flawed.
But, just as you have come from different backgrounds and bring different views and ideas to your new nation, a diversity of thought and viewpoints can ultimately make our nation stronger.
Challenging each other intellectually. Defending your own ideas. And learning from your neighbors is vital.
There’s another President Reagan quote, one that I think of often. That is, “If we love our country, we should also love our countrymen.”
We can be better. We must be better.
Our nation was built on the highest ideals, and those ideals were brought to life by hardworking, law-abiding citizens.
People gave their lives for our nation’s freedom. We owe them the continuation of law and order, and the responsibilities of good citizenship.
The world is different place today than when the Constitution was signed 230 years ago.
One thing that has not changed, though, is that the United States of America is for “We the People.”
In the preamble to the Constitution, we talk about establishing a “more perfect” union. In that phrase—“more perfect”—is the potential of “We the People.”
We are free to practice our religion. We are free to speak out against intolerance. We are free to petition our government, and we are free to peacefully protest.
We are free to volunteer with organizations that speak to our hearts. We are free to make good personal choices, as well as bad. We are free to vote for the leaders we choose. We the People live in the land of the free.
No one is above the Constitution—it belongs to all of us. So does our nation belong to its citizens.
I know your journey to this moment has involved a lot of hard work. I congratulate you, and I congratulate your families, and I wish you all the happiness in the world in celebrating this accomplishment.
But as citizens, we still have work to do in pursuit of a more perfect union.
So participate in your local community. Vote in every election. Voice your ideas. Make your mark in the land of opportunity.
I wish you all the best in living and achieving your American dream. Welcome home, my fellow citizens.
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