Holding court: 17 take oath to complete path to citizenship at Pistons game in Detroit

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Detroit — Manuel Roque's citizenship journey began 20 years ago, when he came to the United States as a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. 

A native of Mexico, Roque said he faced many obstacles over the years as an immigrant.

On Wednesday night, those issues melted away with a naturalization ceremony, greetings to his new home from the Second Gentleman of the United States and a basketball game. 

Seventeen people raise their hands during a naturalization ceremony during the Pistons' halftime game Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs at Little Caesars Arena.

“It’s a great honor,” said Roque, 25. Along with 16 others, he took his Oath of Allegiance during a Detroit Pistons preseason opener and was welcomed as a new citizen by Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris.

“It means to me that the American Dream still lives on in this nation,” he said just before the oath-taking. 

The naturalization ceremony took place at Little Caesars Arena during halftime between the Detroit team and the San Antonio Spurs. The event was held to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month.

The crowd of basketball fans erupted in cheers as the new citizens completed their Oath of Allegiance and then Pledge of Allegiance, administered by Chief U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood and Mick Dedvukaj, Detroit District director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, respectively.

Members of the group, in addition to Mexico, hailed from Algeria, Australia, Canada, Bangladesh, France, Lebanon, Mali, the Philippines, Vietnam and Yemen.

“You speak different languages, you practice different faiths … You now share with us this unbreakable bond; you are United States citizens," Emhoff said. "It’s amazing.

“This is not the end of your journey. Guess what?” said Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff told the new citizens. “This is just the beginning naturalization ceremony Wednesday.

“I say to my fellow Americans, welcome. Congratulations. You did it!”

Judge David Lawson, who provided opening remarks at the ceremony, encouraged the newly naturalized group to vote and practice other civic rights and duties. 

“Citizenship is not a spectator sport … it requires action,” he said.

Aurelio Mendez, who also became a citizen Wednesday night, said his new status meant he would follow that advice and vote in federal elections.  

“It's extra special for me because a lot of Hispanics are going through these processes, or they’re afraid of(them) … It will be nice to inspire them to basically follow my steps.’”

The ceremony was a first for the Pistons, team officials said.

“The Pistons strive to be a community asset for the city of Detroit and it was honor for our organization to host such an important event,” said Arn Tellem, vice chairman.

Emhoff told a story about about his immigrant great-grandparents and their dreams for their family. “If only they could see me now!” 

He also talked aboutHarris’ immigrant parents, who, like the new citizens, were people “in search of acceptance … in search of opportunity.” 

“This is not the end of your journey. Guess what?” said Emhoff. “This is just the beginning." 

“Tomorrow, I look forward to working alongside you to form a more perfect union,” he continued. 

Bridget Morrissy Miko, 55, of Troy raises her hand during the ceremony as she takes the oath and then recites the Pledge of Allegiance to become a new U.S. citizen.

Before the game, Emhoff chatted with 16 second graders from Amelia Earhart Elementary-Middle School in southwest Detroit. The pupils, along with their families, were invited by the Pistons as part of the organization's youth engagement efforts, and chosen as a reward for high attendance over the school year. 

“This is your principal. You know how hard she works? I do,” Emhoff said about Melissa Villarreal, who accompanied the students. 

“My wife is Kamala Harris, and she is the first woman vice president in the history of our country,” he said to applause and cheers from the students and their families, and noted that he was the first Second Gentlemen. 

“And I’d better not be the last."  

Emhoff also told the pupils that his favorite basketball player was the "late, great Kobe Bryant," followed by Michigan native Magic Johnson.

"