Garland calls on Americans to overcome polarization in Ellis Island speech

NEW YORK — Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke to the urgent need to overcome the “intense polarization in America” in a passionate and sometimes moving speech on Saturday.

Garland delivered her speech after swearing allegiance to 200 new American citizens at a naturalization ceremony at Ellis Island in New York.

“We must not allow the fractures between us to fracture our democracy,” Garland said. “We’re all in there. We’re all Americans.

In the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, Garland held back tears as she reflected on her own family’s immigration history and the religious persecution that led some of her loved ones to seek refuge at Ellis Island in the early days. of the XXth century.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers a statement to the U.S. Department of Justice on August 11 in Washington, DC (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

He shared the story of his grandmother, one of five children born to a Jewish family in present-day Belarus, who fled religious persecution during World War II. However, only three of them made it to the United States, including her grandmother. The other two, he said, “were killed in the Holocaust.”

“If it weren’t for America, there’s no doubt the same thing would have happened to my grandmother,” Garland said, her voice shaking. “But this country welcomed her. And under the protection of our laws, she was able to live without fear of persecution.

“This protection,” he continued, “is what sets America apart from so many other countries.”

This message and the welcoming scene at Ellis Island contrasts sharply with those seen this week on Martha’s Vineyard and outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence in Washington, D.C., where migrants (many of them Venezuelan asylum seekers) have found themselves in the midst of a bitter political tussle between the Biden administration and Republican governors of southern border states, who blame what they see as lax immigration policies for the record number of migrants apprehended along from the Mexican border this year.

A woman wearing an African headdress and another in a batik outfit sit with other would-be citizens holding small American flags during a naturalization ceremony on Ellis Island.

A naturalization ceremony at Ellis Island in New York on September 17. (Reuters/Eduardo Munoz)

The Biden administration has also faced criticism from immigration advocates this week, following reports that it is seeking to expand its use of Title 42, a Trump-era policy that uses the pandemic as justification to immediately return migrants apprehended at the border, even though they may have legitimate asylum claims.

Many experts have cited the policy, which the Biden administration has publicly sought to repeal, as a key contributor to the record number of border arrests, which include many repeat over-crossers.

Garland’s remarks also come amid an ongoing legal battle between the Justice Department and former President Donald Trump over classified documents FBI agents seized from Trump’s estate in Florida last month. . The Justice Department and Garland himself have been accused by the former president and his allies of playing politics in his ongoing criminal investigation into the possible mishandling of sensitive government documents that were removed from the White House after Trump’s departure last year.

In recent rulings granting Trump’s request to appoint a special master, the federal judge hearing the case suggested it requires different treatment because it involves a former president.

“Based on the plaintiff’s former position as President of the United States, the stigma associated with the seizure in question is in a category of its own,” said a Sept. 5 ruling by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon. , a Trump appointee. “A future indictment, based in any degree on property that should be returned, would result in reputational damage of a decidedly different order of magnitude.”

A toddler looks sadly over his mother's shoulder as a number of migrants wait to be fed.

A mother and child in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on September 15, stand outside St. Andrew’s Parrish House, where migrants received lunch with food donated by the community. (Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Cannon also noted in a Sept. 15 ruling that “principles of fairness require the Court to consider the specific context at issue, and that consideration is inherently affected by the position previously occupied by the plaintiff.”

Garland, who typically refrains from engaging in politics, did not address either debate, but instead spoke about the importance of the rule of law in maintaining democracy.

“The rule of law means the law treats us equally,” he said. “There is not one rule for friends, another for enemies; one rule for the powerful, another for the weak; one rule for the rich, another for the poor; or different rules, depending on race, ethnicity or country of origin.

Saturday was the 235th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787, and the Ellis Island event kicked off a week of special naturalization ceremonies across the country orchestrated by state citizenship and immigration services. United to celebrate “the link between the Constitution and citizenship.

New American citizens raise their hands to take the oath.

Attorney General Merrick Garland swore in 200 new US citizens at the Ellis Island naturalization ceremony on Saturday. (Credit: Caitlin Dickson/Yahoo News)

Ahead of the ceremony, “America the Beautiful” played over the speakers as citizenship applicants and their loved ones entered the Great Hall, where 12 million immigrants before them were once processed upon arrival in the United States. The 200 new citizens sworn in on Saturday came from 57 different countries, including Albania, China, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Japan, Lebanon, Moldova, Nepal, Pakistan and Venezuela.

Among them was Joyce Ramdan, who moved to the United States from Guyana in 1996. She said she finally decided to join her children and grandchildren in becoming a citizen earlier this year, so she could have more security and freedom to travel. Ramdan told Yahoo News she was “excited” and “happy to be a citizen, to be able to vote.”

A woman wearing an orange headdress, seated with other would-be citizens, holds a program for the ceremony and a flag.

People attend a naturalization ceremony at Ellis Island on Saturday. (Reuters/Eduardo Munoz)

Voting was also the reason Nick Parker, originally from the United Kingdom, decided to become a citizen after 13 years in the United States. Parker told Yahoo News that he came to town with his wife and two daughters from Westchester, NY, for the ceremony, and by the time they arrived at Ellis Island, it had already been a long morning with many time spent queuing.

When asked if he was pleased to hear the attorney general speak, Parker’s face lit up in surprise.

“Oh, I didn’t know! I had no idea,” he said, adding, “We weren’t really told much.

“That’s why it’s so crowded,” he said, taking in the long lines of people around him with new appreciation. “Well, that’s super cool.”


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