MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, WYO. — Yellowstone National Park often plays host to a range of special occasions like marriage proposals, birthdays, family reunions and even the scattering of cremated remains. But until now, the park had never been the site for a naturalization ceremony.
On a crisp, breezy, picture-perfect morning earlier this month, 42 immigrants from 20 different countries gathered near the Liberty Cap to take the oath of citizenship in what park officials said was the first observance of its kind in Yellowstone.
Grace Dolbear from Colstrip, Mont. was among those who recited the 140-word oath forswearing “all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty,” and promising to “bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law.”
Dolbear, originally from the Philippines, said before the ceremony that she was nervous, and anxious to make it through the relaxed but solemn affair.
Afterward, she was all smiles.
“I’m so happy and honored and proud. It’s a dream come true,” said Dolbear, who left the sprawling metropolis of Cebu City, home to more than 800,000, to join her fiancé and now husband, Roy Dolbear in a rural mining town of less than 2,300.
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Many of those becoming U.S. citizens in Yellowstone had moved to America for love, including Sharri Roberts. A native of the United Kingdom, Roberts met her American husband while he was stationed in England with the Air Force. They came to the park a day before the ceremony, driving up from Star Valley, Wyo. south of Grand Teton National Park, to look for wildlife and take pictures.
After living in the U.S. for a decade, Roberts said she was “excited and having fun, but ready for this all to be done so I can finally have the same nationality as my two kids.”
Naturalization ceremonies take place in a variety of venues around the country, from rural courthouses hosting a dozen applicants to big-city sports arenas where thousands are made citizens. For this event, applicants were given a choice of a location close to home or Yellowstone, with participants traveling from Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Utah. For some, Yellowstone was closer than the alternative.
“This is the first time that we’re aware of that we’ve had a ceremony with new citizens from four different states,” said Andy Lambrecht, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
Before the ceremony, Lambrecht walked the immigrants through their final round of paperwork, including a formal certificate of citizenship, which must be signed in black ink and should never be laminated, he advised.
U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of Wyoming Mark Carman administered the oath, telling participants that Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, was “an idea that was born here and has spread throughout the world—it is one of America’s great achievements.”
“Don’t try to become an American, you are an American,” Carman told the new citizens. “And you bring the richness of your past, your experiences and your heritage to America. That is what always has made, and always will make, this a great country.”
Carman, based at the Yellowstone Justice Center in Mammoth, said performing naturalization ceremonies is his favorite part about being a federal judge, and he looked forward to hosting more of them in the park.
The hour-long observance featured the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the Yellowstone National Park Mounted Color Guard and a pre-recorded audio message from President Barack Obama.
Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk told the group that “it is fitting to be in a national park for this naturalization ceremony because national parks are places where we as citizens preserve the history of our country.”
New citizen Darawan “Dar” Emmert said Yellowstone and the surrounding wild places make up a big part of what she loves about living in America.
Originally from Thailand, Emmert, 29, moved to Clark, Wyo. at 14 when her mother immigrated to the U.S. Now married and living in Cody where she works at a coffee shop and restaurant, Emmert said she feels at home in Wyoming.
“I really love it—the mountains, fishing, camping—I love it all,” she said.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].