For Marilyn Montville, 78, becoming a United States citizen means more than a title, it’s a civic duty.
“It means that I’m a full participant in society,” she said. “It has been my home all of these years. Now this is the final piece of my belonging.”
Montville, a Canadian native, and 15 others were sworn in as U.S. citizens at the Park County Courthouse on Friday during a citizenship naturalization ceremony presided by Judge Bill Simpson. A crowd filled a courtroom usually relegated for much darker topics, but on this day packed with supporting friends and family, man, woman and baby.
“What a great pleasure it is to be hosting this ceremony,” Simpson said. “Just a few days before our nation’s birthday, July Fourth.”
After identifying the new Americans, the newly naturalized were required to take an oath, and then Simpson guided the group and audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The new citizens came from a variety of different backgrounds and ways of life, with nine different countries represented, including Canada, Mexico, India and Moldova.
“That is the beauty of America,” Simpson said. “Everybody has roots from a different country, melded into a beautiful place. Today, you all have been given a great gift – that is, you are an American citizen.”
One of the newly sworn was Monia Haselhorst, a biology professor at Northwest College and director of the new Teaching and Learning Center for the school. She came to the United States in 2008 from Sweden.
Her husband Paul Haselhorst and mother-in-law Connie Haselhorst also attended for the ceremonies.
As Simpson ushered in Haselhorst and the others to take their oath of allegiance, Connie Haselhorst, who traveled from South Dakota for the ceremony, could not contain her emotions, dabbing her crying eyes emphatically. There were few dry eyes in the room.
Linda Devries is a native of India. She married an American and came to the United States in 2015 on a visa. She and her husband now run a number of hotels and motels in Cody.
“I’m very happy and excited,” she said.
Two U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services representatives were on-hand for the ceremonies, as were staff from the offices of U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barasso and Congresswoman Liz Cheney.
“My favorite part of the job is this,” said USCIS field officer Jodi Bard. “It’s just a heartwarming event to be a part of.”
Although the ceremony was mostly celebratory in nature, Simpson stressed to the new citizens their heightened responsibilities.
“You now have great responsibilities,” Simpson said. “To vote and carry all the same devotion and love for this country.”
In addition to the $725 application fee to become a U.S. citizen, applicants must also pass a naturalization test, which quizzes subjects on speaking, reading, writing and civics.
“I think there are a few people born in the U.S. who could not pass that test,” Simpson said.
Ever Chavez is a maintenance worker at a lodge in Shell. He said the test was easier than expected, but it didn’t hurt that he studied the Constitution significantly.
“I can read more than write,” he said. “I never went to school once I came here (America).”
Canadians made up the largest pool of applicants sworn in Friday. Dan Gross moved to Wyoming in 2011 from outside Vancouver, and is a former employee of Cody Labs. In order to gain his green card, Gross had to spend nine years and $12,000 in legal and government fees, a process that required extensive mugshots and fingerprinting.
“I’ve got more fingerprint records than Al Capone,” he said.
He said the actual citizenship process was actually easier than the original green card, for which he and his wife Diane had to take cross-country trips to Montreal and complete significant paperwork.
“It’s so much ‘freeer’ of a country,” Gross said. “There’s no more decent people than Americans.”
Ralston resident Maria Rodriguez came to the United States 47 years ago from Mexico. Now she has two children serving in the military and officially became an American at the ceremony. Surrounded by her family, she said it was her children’s service that inspired her to go after citizenship.
“I’m proud,” she said.
With immigration a politically charged topic in the U.S., Chavez’s advice to noncitizens living inside the country is simple.
“If they’ve got a way to (become citizens), go ahead and do it,” he said. “It’s one less thing you have to worry about. You never know if they’ll change the law, so you feel safer.