Welcome to America

Published 8:11 pm Saturday, March 9, 2013

Ever since Capt. John Smith brought a boatload of explorer-settlers across the Atlantic Ocean to make their uncertain home in the New World, America has been a land of opportunity, a place where oppressed and downtrodden people could pursue their dreams of freedom and their hopes for a better life. To this day, immigrants enter our nation — legally and illegally — in search of the opportunity to remake their lives, to chase the American dream.

With the nation embroiled in yet another debate about how to handle the surge of illegal immigrants flooding across our porous borders, what sometimes gets lost in all the rhetoric is the fact that each year thousands of people arrive on America’s shores with a conscientious desire to gain citizenship through existing legal channels.

Suffolk’s Dr. Julius Nywalwidhe came to Hampton Roads from Germany in 2007 with some of those same ideas. His family immigrated through the Diversity Visa Lottery, through which the U.S. Department of State issues 50,000 visas each year to people from countries with low levels of immigration to the United States. The family is originally from Kenya and fled that country in search of the safety and security of the West.

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Germany turned out not to be the home they sought. America, on the other hand, has become that home for them. Nywalwidhe, who is a research scientist and assistant professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School, where he currently researches prostate cancer, Type 1 diabetes and infectious diseases, became a U.S. citizen in November.

His son, Ian Odhiambo Oduor, a student at Nansemond River High School, earned that coveted designation as his father’s minor child. On Saturday, Ian took part in a symbolic citizenship ceremony at Jamestown Settlement, the place where John Smith and those first American immigrants put down their roots.

There is something special about being an American citizen. And nothing honors the exceptional character of American citizenship more than having earned it legally.

Congratulations, Ian and Dr. Nywalwidhe, and welcome to America.