News & Views

Cathryn Miller-Wilson’s Remarks During 2024 Freedom Week Naturalization Ceremony

July 1, 2024 | 10:30 AM

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Ceremonial Courtroom


Good morning and congratulations! My name is Cathryn Miller-Wilson and I am the Executive Director of HIAS and Council Migration Service of Philadelphia, Inc. also known as HIAS Pennsylvania. I am so honored to be witnessing this momentous occasion with all of you.

HIAS stands for Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Our organization was founded in 1882 by Jews to rescue Jews from terrorist attacks in Eastern Europe. We continued this work and this mission until the 1970’s, when, at the request of our federal government we began helping people of all faiths and backgrounds. Today we are so proud to welcome people from all over the world – 135 countries last year! – from every religion and every tradition. My predecessor at HIAS PA used to say, “when you welcome an immigrant you welcome the world to your door!” and how right she was! Welcoming you enriches our country with your traditions, your culture, your food and your steadfast belief in freedom. But you are more than enriching, you are, in this perilous moment, our only hope.

You know, better than I, the amount of displacement happening around the world – displacement caused by wars about which direction the future should take, wars about resources dwindling in the face of climate change, wars about power and fear of its loss. I don’t need to tell you that what the world needs now, more than ever, is peace. Coming here, you give us a chance at that: because of your differences – culture, history, perspective, language, religion – and the courageous step you took to ask to be embraced and accepted – as different as you are. And today, you take an oath that makes you, with all that you bring that is unique, part of the American fabric. Achieving peace requires the knowledge – and acceptance – of difference and the recognition of our common humanity. You, today, remind us that we are all human and unify us as one nation.

I know, from my own family’s experience and my privileged work with clients like all of you, that the journey you took to get here was neither easy nor even, in some cases, the path that you would have chosen. Many of you would have stayed in your country of origin if you could have. Instead, you found yourself faced with the terrible choice to leave everything you have ever known or risk your and your families’ safety and well being. I am sorry that you were forced to make that choice. But I am grateful that you are here.

Today, you adopt a new country, a new culture and in some cases a new language. And in doing so, you enrich all of us. Many of you know what it’s like to live with a failed government, you know what it’s like to not have individual freedoms, you know what it’s like to have little or no choice in who will lead you. You may have realized in your time here, that our country, while promising these things – a stable government, individual freedoms and the right to vote for our leaders – sometimes falls short of these lofty goals. But today, when you take this oath, know that these goals remain our north star. That everyday, every single one of us, and after today every single one of you, work hard (and will work hard) to achieve that north star for everyone. We are not perfect as a country just like we are not perfect as human beings. But the underpinnings upon which our country was founded are ideals that are worthy of upholding and enforcing. We welcome you with open arms, open hearts and gratitude for the promise you bring to all of us in helping us to draw ever closer to the achievement of those ideals.