17 immigrants become citizens at historic fort

FORT DAVIS – A non-traditional federal court session at Fort Davis National Historic Site on Monday naturalized as Americans 17 immigrants from six countries.

The ceremony was in the shade of a barracks at the historic fort, a cool morning breeze waving the large American flag standing at attention in the middle of the parade ground and making the silvery leaves of the cottonwoods rustle as well.

Of the new Americans, 11 came from Mexico, two from Nigeria, and one each from Bolivia, Burma, Canada, and Cuba. Festus Emade Idiake of Nigeria was a winner of one of 50,000 legal immigrant “green card” visas awarded each year in the State Department’s Diversity Immigrant Visa program.

The program’s goal is to diversify the immigrant population in the United States, by selecting applicants from countries with low numbers of immigrants. As of 2017, around 20 million people apply for the lottery each year.

Idiake has lived in Midland with his four children since 2013 and works as an electrical technician for an oil and gas company. He first moved to Houston in 2010 and worked as a corrections officer. Naturalization requires immigrants to live in the country for five years.

Economic hardship in Nigiera forced the new American out of his country of origin, he said. “I had a banking and finance degree and couldn’t get a job.” His parents suffered, too, diverting their already-low income to put him through school.”

Nigeria is one of the world’s largest oil producers but tribal disputes, British rule, civil war and military junta governments have hampered the distribution of wealth. Its human rights record is poor. The United States “gave me an opportunity to make a better life for my family and friends,” and he regularly sends money to relatives in Nigeria, he said.

As the ceremony began, bailiff Victoria Lockhart called the Western Federal District court into session and announced that U.S. District Judge David Guaderrama of El Paso was presiding.

“I’m a citizen by birth,” the judge told citizenship petitioners, lamenting how often natural born residents take for granted the freedom and opportunities in America.

Two sisters, born and raised in Fort Davis who now work in federal government with agencies involved in immigration, took part in the ceremony at the fort where thei r great-great-grandfather was a wheelwright and carpenter in the 19th century. Ed Hartnett immigrated from Ireland.

Like the judge, “I, too was born in the United States, the descendants of immigrants,” said Margaret Hartnett, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services El Paso field office director. “I’ve had many great opportunities because my great-great-grandfather came here.”

Her sister, Sarah Louise Hartnett, the chief counsel for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Houston, likened the bravery of her ancestor to the 17 immigrants “whose bravery brought you here today.”

A proud Minnie Hartnett of Fort Davis, the sisters’ mother, and several relatives attended the ceremony.

The USIC has naturalization ceremonies around the country during the Fourth of July holiday in the spirit of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

A total 14,000 new citizens were naturalized at nearly 175 locations this year, the nation’s 242nd anniversary.