March 24, 2004

Federal judge to preside over naturalization ceremony

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Federal Judge J. Phil Gilbert will preside over the naturalization of 21 new U.S. citizens on Friday, March 26, at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's law school.

Chancellor Walter V. Wendler is guest speaker for the ceremonies, which start at 11 a.m. in the law school auditorium. A reception sponsored by three local chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution follows in the law school lounge.

"It is one of the most pleasant things that I do as a federal judge," said Gilbert, a judge for the Southern District of Illinois the last 11 years. "It is really the only time, since the courts are usually involved with adversarial proceedings ... an opportunity for people to come into court and walk out happy."

Media Advisory

Reporters and photographers are welcome to cover the ceremonies. For more information, contact assistant SIUC law professor Cindy Buys at 618/453-8743. The ceremony lasts about one hour.

Gilbert estimates that he has naturalized "a couple of thousand or more," citizens in his time on the bench.

"To see the expressions and the faces on the people who are being naturalized citizens is very heartwarming," said Gilbert, adding that the "strength of this country traditionally has been because of its immigrant heritage."

Law school professor Cindy Buys last year accompanied a third-year SIUC law school student from the United Kingdom to her naturalization ceremony. Buys, whose background is immigration law, said she was so moved by the ceremony that she explored the possibility with Judge Gilbert of holding another ceremony at SIUC.

"I was just so impressed by what an important day it was for them and their families," Buys said. "It was interesting the diversity of countries represented and the walks of life represented; all of whom had lived in the United States a long time and decided that this was the country they loved and they wanted to swear their allegiance to.

"Sometimes maybe we take it all for granted when we are born here, so it is kind of nice to think that people actually choose that."

Dean Peter C. Alexander said he is pleased the law school is hosting the ceremonies in the law school's state-of-the-art courtroom.

Gilbert recalls several years ago he made a "house call" to naturalize an elderly lady near Carlyle. The woman, who was in her 80s, had lived in the United States for many years and gone through the process to become a citizen, but was too ill to attend the ceremony. The woman's family asked Gilbert if there was some way the woman could still complete the process.

"She told me after she became a citizen that her dream was to be an American citizen before she died," said Gilbert. "That is how much meaning it has to other people who come to these shores; that being an American is something very dear to them.

"It was a very moving and heartwarming experience for me to have been able to do that," he said.