Peoria judge welcomes immigrants

For a number of years, Judge James Shadid has conducted naturalization ceremonies in Peoria swearing in new citizens. These immigrants have come from dozens of countries around the world.

With the current turmoil, uncertainty and misinformation about immigration, Judge Shadid’s recent welcoming address to these new U.S. citizens seems especially relevant. His citizenship ceremonies are always a favorite with the local media. He gave Community Word permission to reprint his recent address to the new citizens of this country.

Judge Shadid’s remarks at naturalization ceremony July 19, 2019:

The Promise of America –– Out of Many One

Good morning and thank you for allowing me the honor of presiding over this wonderful day we share together. Every one of you, every one of us, has a story to tell. Today, 89 of you people from 32 countries with a story of hope, a story of anxiousness, a story of worry, a story of excitement . . . maybe all part of one story . . . how we came here, why we came here, how and when our ancestors came before us, paving the way for a better life for ourselves and our families.

Yes, every American has a story to tell and each story is part of strengthening the fabric of America. Today I would like to share with you my story. It is my way to say thank you to my grandparents, but to also say thank you to each of you for the decision you make today. Your decision will affect more people, in more ways, than you can imagine.

There is a small village tucked in a rugged corner of Lebanon between Syria and Israel called Marjayoun. In the early 1900s it had a population of 10,000 people and four newspapers. It has been described as once being graceful and gentle, landscaped with olive trees and stone houses roofed with red tile.

That forgotten corner of Lebanon was once the proud home of my grandparents.

My Grandpa Shadid peddled clothing, with his father, on a route from Marjayoun to Damascus. One day during his travels his father died and my grandfather carried him for two days so he would have a proper burial.

In 1919, my grandfather married Adeebi Massad and their honeymoon consisted of boarding a boat for the United States, traveling in steerage.

Like most others, they suffered through hardship and a depression to make their way but somehow, just like most others, they struggled on, earning a living, raising a family and building a nation.

Now I honestly don’t know what the circumstances of that decision would be today. At the time, they were considered to be from Syria. But I often think how fortunate they were –– and their nine children were and their 33 grandchildren were –– that they were able to come here at that time, and America received them.

My grandparent’s nine children worked as a police officer protecting your streets, worked at Caterpillar in labor and in management, worked as postal workers delivering your mail, as small business owners serving your needs, as mothers and fathers, husbands and wives raising their children –– all as proud Americans.

Those 33 grandchildren were no different –– working in the trades as laborers, construction workers, builders and carpenters. In small business as management, in investments, pharmacy, insurance, education, medicine, law and in many other professions –– all as proud Americans.

The fourth child of my grandparents was my father, George Shadid. With only an eighth grade education, dad was a Peoria police officer for 23 years, sheriff of Peoria County for 17 years and an Illinois state senator for 13 years. For six of those years in the Illinois State Senate, dad sat next to, and became friends with, a Harvard Law School educated gentlemen and future President of the United States, Barrack Obama.

Only in America? Yes –– but that’s more than just words. As those immigrant grandparents of mine look down on me today, they see a grandson presiding over this ceremony as a United States District Judge, administering the same oath to you that my grandfather took 89 years ago in 1930, and they see this certificate, the same that you will receive today, that I display in my office as a daily reminder of the decision they made for a better life for themselves and their family.

Could they have imagined what we would become? No, but they could imagine that we would follow the path they charted and do our part to build a nation, and if my grandfather were here today he would say to me, no matter the law I’ve learned or the books I’ve read or the titles I have obtained, I already hold the highest office in the land, the office of “citizen.”

That is their story, my story, the story of my uncles and aunts and cousins. You have your own stories. They may be different in how you came here, but they are similar in why you came here, and they are the same as to the hopes and dreams you have for yourselves and your families.

And the one story we all share is this: Pride in your family is the same in every country. Pride in your children is the same in every country. Pride in yourselves is the same in every country.

Let me finish with this: For the past seven years, I have presided over naturalization ceremonies with positive and hopeful remarks. Today is no different except that I recognize the divisive, demeaning and hate filled words that often surround conversations regarding citizenship, immigrants and legal immigration.

As a result, your responsibilities as citizens, my responsibility as a citizen, is as important today as each generation that came before us –– maybe more important –– as you are called upon to do your part to build this nation.

This divisiveness is not new to America. At times in our history those who want America to be only as they wish it to be come out and shout, and when they don’t think they are being heard they shout louder. They challenge all the qualities associated with America in the way that we treat each other –– with fairness, tolerance, compassion, equality, civility and freedom –– the qualities that likely inspired you to come here in the first place.

These shouters are as old as America itself. President Lincoln once said in response that he was “opposed to that which degrades a person, any person.”

How simple is that? He was opposed to that which degrades a person. What can we learn from Lincoln and from our grandparents and from our parents and from each other? To honestly accept our responsibilities as citizens and to never abuse the privileges we are afforded from the fact of our citizenship. No group may be more qualified than you to do so. Today you are an affirmation of what America is and will continue to be.

I welcome you today as citizens of the United States. You honor us with your decision. I thank you for doing so as you and I –– We The People of the United States –– holding the office of citizen, continue to strengthen the fabric of America and continue to live, and love, the promise of America. Out of Many One.

Thank you.

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