“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty … that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America … that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law … that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.” ~Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America
Immigration lawyers have plenty to celebrate this week. First, the Senate significantly overhauled the nation’s immigration laws. Second, the U.S. Supreme Court extended federal benefits to legally-married same-sex couples. One of those benefits is citizenship through marriage. 30,000 couples stuck in immigration limbo can now join their American spouses as legal residents and citizens of the United States.
I know how they feel, because until very recently, I was one of them. I married a U.S. citizen in 2009. Four years later, I stood on Daley Plaza with 59 other immigrants and swore my sole allegiance to the United States of America. On one side of me was a married couple from Argentina. On my other side were four sisters from Belize. When I told the others I was an attorney, they told me about other attorneys standing in the crowd behind us. These weren’t visitors from the Daley Center trying to understand what on earth a mariachi band, samba dancers and Miss Chicago were all doing on the plaza (it was a special Flag Day ceremony). These were my seatmates’ immigration lawyers sharing with their clients one of the happiest days of their lives.
I don’t have an immigration lawyer. But as I said that oath, recited the pledge, sang the anthem, and then today, remembered what Thursday was, I realized that I do have some lawyers I want to thank. 25 of them.
I want to thank John Adams from Massachusetts, who, with his Harvard degree in hand, became a lawyer, a congressman, and a President. I’d like to thank his colleague from Maryland, Samuel Chase. Chase was 33 when he became Maryland’s representative at the Continental Congress. Twenty-two years later, George Washington appointed him to the Supreme Court of the United States.
I don’t want to forget William Ellery, a lawyer who didn’t start practicing until the age of 43. Or another William, William Hooper, the lawyer from North Carolina whose estates the British burned to the ground. Then there’s Abraham Clark, Samuel Huntington and Roger Sherman, lawyers who never formally studied law. Thank you to them as well. And thank you to all the other lawyers – the Thomases, Heyward, Lynch and McKean; recess appointee William Paca; naval ship eponym John Penn; brothers-in-law George Read and George Ross; prisoners of war Edward Rutledge, George Walton and Richard Stockton; whaler Robert Paine; flag designer Francis Hopkinson; Irishman James Smith; the man who died of a “broken heart” Thomas Stone; an original Supreme, James Wilson, and the first American professor of law, George Wythe. And of course, the last Thomas, Thomas Jefferson, the lawyer, the President, and the author of the document signed by each of these men – the American Declaration of Independence.
On July 4, 1776, 56 men approved a Declaration that would spawn a war and create a nation. 25 of them were lawyers. These sons and grandsons of immigrants paved the very long way for me to stand up and swear my allegiance to the United States of America. So on this 237th Fourth of July holiday, I would like to acknowledge my 25 lawyers, men who put their life and liberty at stake in pursuit of a nation’s happiness. From one American to another, thank you.