The Election, According To Colorado’s Newest Citizens

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Julio Martinez and Ronald Shaw each take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony in Centennial, Colorado.

Standing up from his chair, 56-year-old Julio Martinez raised his right hand and started into the Oath of Allegiance, which is required of all foreign-born U.S. residents who wish to become full citizens.

Martinez, a high school soccer coach and technician at the Greeley meat processor JBS-USA, promised to defend the Constitution. He renounced all allegiances to any foreign princes or potentates. He swore to take up arms in defense of the U.S. when required by law.

Along with 45 other foreign-born Coloradans who stood with him, he had come to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service Office in Centennial, Colorado to become a U.S. citizen. At some point during the oath, his eyes welled up and his hand started shaking. Martinez held as still as he could until the last line, then his hand dropped to clear his face of tears.

"I waited all these years for this," he said. "It was just something I had to do for my mom and dad."

His parents, who have both passed away, brought him to the U.S. from Mexico when he was nine or 10 — he can’t remember for sure — and always wanted him to be a U.S. citizen. He said their deaths were a wake-up call to stop putting off the naturalization process.

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Julio Martinez cries as he holds his grand daughter after the naturalization ceremony.

Johnson wished the ceremony had happened a few weeks earlier. She wanted her dad to be able to vote against Trump, who has frightened her with his promises to increase deportations and build a wall.

"I was pushing him a bit more because you never know what laws are going to change or what might stop him from becoming a U.S. citizen," said Johnson.

Across the country, USCIS recorded a small uptick in applications for citizenship in 2016 compared to the previous year. Some organizations suggested that was a reaction to Trump, but the trend wasn't reflected in Colorado. Approved applications for naturalization in the state have seen normal fluctuations over the last two years.

What is clear is that naturalization has had a major impact on Colorado’s voter pool. In 2013, about one out of 10 Coloradans were born somewhere other than the U.S. according to the Census Bureau. That’s a two-fold increase from the rate in 1990. Of those foreign-born Coloradans, about 40 percent have elected to become U.S. citizens — and eligible voters.

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Joey Johnson, 4, and Gabriela Johnson, 6, watch on as their grandfather was naturalized as a U.S. citizen.

Ronald Shaw sat next to Martinez throughout the ceremony. The 76-year-old came to the U.S. from India in 1966 to attend University of California-Santa Cruz. He went on to earn a doctorate in Education. After working in private Christian schools in California, he and his wife started making missions to India and other Southeast Asian countries. He moved to Colorado Springs to care for an ailing sister, who recently passed away.

Shaw still travels in his retirement to advise teachers and school administrators in Southeast Asia. He said that he teaches principles of leadership — many of which he sees and admires in the president-elect.

"He's a leader. His election has been a very clear message to all that what was happening in the U.S. over the last few years has to change," he said.

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Participants at December 2nd naturalization ceremony in Centennial, Colorado watch the proceedings.

Shaw would have voted for Trump if he'd been eligible for the election. He admired the billionaire's tenacity in the face of opposition from the media, from Democrats and from within the Republican Party. Shaw also shares some of the concerns about immigration voiced by many Trump supporters. He worries many newcomers aren't interested in assimilating.

"Some immigrants come with preconceived ideas or they have been brainwashed in certain ways,” he said. “So they did not come here for a better life. They came here to destroy this life, in a sense."

Pride West Warah also received his certificate of citizenship. He came to the U.S. from Cameroon in 2009. Warah just finished school to be a registered nurse and said that he is studying furiously to pass his boards.

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Pride West Warah and his family pose with his new certificate of citizenship

Any anxiety about the future couldn’t contain his excitement after the naturalization ceremony. Neither the tone nor the results of the election concerned Warah, who saw it as a sign that the U.S. remains a country of tremendous possibility.

"This is a democratic country. And anybody can rise up and write their names on the walls of America. So, I think if Donald becomes president, it changes the face of things, not actually changing who we are," he said.

His smile grew as he used the word "we" to refer to all Americans.

A soulful rendition of “America The Beautiful” played as the naturalization ceremony came to a close. Julio Martinez and his family had taken the full day to celebrate his citizenship. They planned to go out for lunch, then to watch Martinez’s son-in-law coach a high school basketball game in Denver. His team, the Thompson Valley Eagles, would go on to crush Denver West 72-29.

"It's going to be an exciting day," said Martinez as he left. "It's already has been a good day today. It just happened and I can't believe it."

Others shared that sentiment. American politics were an afterthought. No matter who leads the country, they were thrilled to have a small role to play in its future.