New citizens, new rights, responsibilities

Newest Americans gain right to vote just in time for municipal, general elections

The oath of citizenship is serious. The newest Americans, granted citizenship on Friday morning, have made promises to our country that many lifelong Americans don’t think much about. There is one right — or perhaps responsibility — that has been a hot issue for all citizens lately, and that’s the right to vote.


At 10 a.m. on Friday in the Federal Court House, Magistrate Judge Leslie Longenbaugh welcomed a crowd for one of the few joyful events that takes place between those walls — a citizenship ceremony. Twelve people of various ages and nationalities pledged to be Americans, accepting all the rights and responsibilities citizenship entails.

“The pledge comes with great privileges and great responsibilities,” Longenbaugh said. She called on the lifelong Americans to share in those responsibilities — ”(to) help new citizens find their way.”

During the Ketchikan ceremony earlier in the week, Longenbaugh said a woman traveled into town by boat to bring voter registration forms and Alaska flag pins. Another brought refreshments.

At the Friday ceremony, the League of Women Voters had set up a table to register Alaska’s newest eligible voters. Additionally, the Social Security Administration had a table for new citizens to register, and the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Emblem Club presented flags and pins respectively.

Sally Smith, who represents Sen. Mark Begich in Juneau, spoke for all of Alaska’s congressional delegation that day.

“We all have new bosses today,” Smith said. “And that’s you. You get to tell us what your needs and your wishes are, and we can’t know unless you participate.”

The message was clear and quite simple — vote.

“Be part of this nation. Actively vote. Actively tell your elected representatives … what you think and why you feel that way,” Smith urged the 12.

Smith also shared with the new citizens something many lifelong Americans tend to forget or find frustrating — telling one’s elected officials what one wants does not necessarily mean that’s what they’ll do.

“But it becomes part of the story that informs them to make decisions in the best interests of the greatest number of people,” Smith explained.

Smith agreed with Longenbaugh, saying welcoming new citizens is among the “happiest things I get to do in my duties.”

Smith acknowledged the hard work that goes into earning citizenship in the U.S., and after all that hard work, the new citizens were eager to participate fully as U.S. citizens.

Hildegard Sellner, originally from Germany but who has lived in the U.S. for 18 years, was able to register to vote. She had been civically engaged in other ways in the past, but can now cast her own vote.

Patrick Endozo, originally from the Philippines, has lived in the U.S. since he was 10 and earned his citizenship right at age 18, just in time to register to vote as his peers have.

Jemelyn Bohulano, originally from the Philippines, was able to join her husband in the U.S. a little more than five years ago, after five years apart. Another five years later, she has become a U.S. citizen as well. She will vote. She is confident that with the votes she and other Americans cast, the country is heading in the right direction.

“We thank you for making that commitment,” Smith said, on behalf of Sens. Begich and Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young. “(We) look forward to working with you as we keep this country healthy, strong and focused on the future.”


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