LOS ANGELES (AP) — Some of the 4,000 immigrants who gathered Wednesday in Los Angeles to take their U.S. citizenship oath let out a collective moan when they learned they were going to watch a videotaped message from President Donald Trump.
For them, the president’s remarks welcoming them into the “American family” and urging them to help newcomers assimilate felt insincere after he previously ordered a travel ban, moved to end a program shielding nearly 800,000 young immigrants from deportation, and referred to Mexican immigrants as rapists.
“You look at the track of others things he’s said and you don’t feel like he’s a genuine person to want to welcome new citizens,” said Kevin Alvarado, a 21-year-old college student who arrived in the U.S. from Nicaragua as a toddler.
Others, however, appreciated Trump’s message of unity — especially at a time of political division.
“I thought the video was great,” said Moises Rodriguez, a 28-year-old wedding disc jockey who came from Mexico and supports Trump’s tough stance on illegal immigration. “The fact that it was very important that we educate the people that are coming here to assimilate to what is the American dream — I thought that was very important.”
Such messages are a key part of naturalization ceremonies. Former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush also produced video messages for use during the events.
In his message, Trump welcomes citizens and tells them they should teach American values to others and “help newcomers assimilate to our way of life.”
“Our history is now your history. And our traditions are now your traditions,” he said.
The speeches by Bush and Obama also mentioned the values of American citizenship. But Trump’s remarks struck a different tone.
“His message seems to be much more, ‘You need to fold yourself into the American fabric of American citizenship,'” said Jason Edwards, a professor of communication at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. “There is not a message about the journey of immigrants.”
Trump’s video debuted as more immigrants are applying to become American citizens.
More than a million people filed applications for citizenship in the year ending in March, up 23 percent from a year earlier, according to statistics from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Legal service organizations that assist immigrants with the process say they saw a surge in interest after the president issued executive orders on immigration.
Immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens generally must have been legal permanent residents of the U.S. for at least three years, show good moral character and pass English and civics tests that cover topics such as the Constitution and the presidency.
Sarah Thompson, a 42-year-old software product manager from Canada, said she filed her application to naturalize the day after Trump was elected.
She said his aggressive stance on immigration made her want to shore up her standing in this country — and it didn’t seem to match the videotaped remarks played at the Los Angeles ceremony.
“It didn’t seem sincere to me given how he has conducted himself during his presidency so far,” Thompson said after becoming a U.S. citizen.