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Some naturalization ceremonies are moving out of stuffy courtrooms to parks

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

On a recent afternoon at King Gillette Ranch, about an hour north of Los Angeles, 47 people from 18 countries became U.S. citizens.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's a ceremony that more typically would take place in a stuffy federal courtroom, but this setting was surrounded by rolling hills under a bright California sun.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICIANT: Candidates, can you please raise your right hand? Please repeat after me. I hereby declare on oath...

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: I hereby declare on oath...

MARTÍNEZ: Officials of the federal office in charge of citizenship and immigration have been choosing scenic and historic sites, from the National Mall in Washington to Ellis Island in New York, as backdrops for naturalization ceremonies. Ana Beatriz Cholo is a spokesperson for the National Park Service.

ANA BEATRIZ CHOLO: This is a good place for them to get an introduction and become future stewards of their public spaces, which now belong to them.

FADEL: The initiative is meant to foster relationships between public lands and new citizens, like Max Mamerev (ph), who's been in the U.S. for a while.

MAX MAMEREV: Twelve years is a long way, so I already felt it as my home. So now I just got a piece of paper. But, you know, I felt as an American, I guess, from the day, you know, I stepped on the land.

MARTÍNEZ: The ceremonies also honor the national park history and the stories of the people who shaped them. Rob Sanders is with the Citizenship Agency office in the San Fernando Valley.

ROB SANDERS: There's a great history of not just natural-born citizens, but immigrants as well, their stories throughout the National Park Service. So it's been really great to help celebrate that, that sense of diversity.

FADEL: Aziz Ahmad came to the United States from Afghanistan in 2016 with his family.

AZIZ AHMAD: It's a really big day for me and my family. I feel so excited. And this is the - this is exactly what the people say. It's a land of opportunity in the country of immigrants, you know?

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICIANT: So help me God.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: So help me God.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICIANT: Congratulations to all of you. Let's give a round of applause.

(APPLAUSE)

MARTÍNEZ: Congratulations indeed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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