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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough

Naturalization Ceremony, United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (USCIS)
Camp Springs, MD
November 9, 2021

Director Jaddou [Director, USCIS], thanks for that kind introduction, and more importantly, for your leadership of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Welcome everyone! Let me also acknowledge Sarah Taylor [Acting Washington District Director, USCIS]; General Luong [Viet Xuan, MG, US Army, Ret.]—congratulations on today’s well-deserved honor. You are an inspiration to us all; all the hard-working people of the Washington D.C. USCIS Field Office who helped organize today’s important ceremony; and, most importantly, our newest U.S. citizens, and your family members and friends.

In my years of public service, I've seen and been deeply moved by the excellence, talents, and dedication of our men and women in uniform—and have also witnessed the heavy burdens they carry from long deployments away from their families.

Beside their hospital beds when they come home, I've seen their resilience as they confronted both visible and invisible wounds that can last a lifetime.

At Dover Air Force Base, when our fallen heroes return home one final time, I've seen the unimaginable grief of military families, to whom we owe a debt that cannot be repaid.

And I've been inspired by how our Veterans continue to strengthen our communities and our country after they leave the military.

So, I can’t think of a more appropriate time to gather here with you for this important naturalization ceremony.

In two days, our country will pause to remember and recognize those brave men and women who fought our nation’s wars and defended us during periods of restless peace. Brave men and women like all of you.

We’ll have the opportunity to recommit and renew our obligation to fulfill President Lincoln’s charge to care for all those “who shall have borne the battle,” their families, caregivers, and survivors.

From the beginning of our fight for independence to the end of the longest war in Afghanistan, millions of Veterans have risked their lives to preserve the democratic ideals of this great nation.

All of us are beneficiaries of the blessings and opportunities their service and sacrifice have provided, that you all have provided, for our nation.

That selfless service makes us the world’s leader among nations and helps make America a beacon of hope and freedom around the world, drawing millions of people to our shores and serving as a model of democracy.

And those millions of immigrants have contributed immeasurably to the success and development of our country!

That’s one reason President Biden is fighting right now for historic investments that will improve our immigration system, provide long awaited relief to immigrant families, reduce backlogs, expand legal representation, and make our asylum system and border processing more orderly, efficient, and humane.

t's one way we can repay the heroic performance of so many immigrants who chose to serve with distinction in uniform throughout our nation’s history.

Today’s newest citizens walk the footsteps of those heroes.

Among those immigrant who served in our military are 700 that earned our Nation’s highest award for valor—the Medal of Honor.

29 USCIS facilities are, in fact, named for some of those recipients, including this facility, the Tomich Center, named in honor of Peter Tomich who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In fact, I was astounded to learn that fully 20 percent of all Medal of Honor recipients, from the American Civil War to Iraq and Afghanistan, were immigrants.

One of them is a man named Alfred Rascon.

Born in Mexico, he immigrated with his parents to the U.S. as a child, growing up in California. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Army with his parents’ permission in 1963. He was just 17. He became a medic, and deployed to Vietnam with the 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade.

In March of 1966, Specialist Four Rascon’s platoon came under heavy fire from a larger enemy force. Within moments, many Soldiers were seriously wounded.

Despite being told to remain behind cover, Rascon moved in the open to treat and recover the severely wounded. Grievously wounded by heavy fire while treating the wounded, he protected their bodies with his own from enemy grenades, and was further injured by grenade fragments.

Years later, a Sergeant in Rascon’s platoon who was wounded that day described his medic’s actions:

Wounded himself, Rascon continued to move forward to . . . my position, attending to my wounds. . .  I could see that he was in great pain. . . as he began to patch me up . . . two or three hand grenades were thrown in our direction . . . without hesitation, Rascon jumped on me . . .  covering me with his body. He received numerous wounds from that encounter . . .

I truly believe his actions that day saved my life. What more can a person do for God, country, and his fellow man?

I think of the Military Code of Conduct . . . which goes “I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard our country and our way of life, and I am prepared to give my life in its defense.” The immigrants that I had the privilege to know and serve with upheld this code.

When I look at my wife, my son, and my daughter, I cannot keep from thinking of one particular immigrant by the name of Al Rascon, and the contribution he made to me and my family on March 16, 1966.

Specialist Rascon refused medical care until other wounded were evacuated.

When he was finally brought out, Rascon was so badly wounded he was given last rites.

But Alfred Rascon lived and recovered.

At the time of his wounding and valorous actions, he was not yet an American citizen. But after his recovery, he became a citizen, attended college, became an officer, and served another tour in Vietnam.

In 2003, he was re-activated, assigned to the Office of the Surgeon General, and served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel.

In 2019, Alfred Rascon told a reporter, “I tell people I’m an immigrant by birth and an American by choice,” said Rascon. “I’m very proud of that.”

So, to our new citizens, you follow in the path of heroes like Alfred Rascon. You are Soldiers, and Sailors, and Airmen, and Marines. You are, above all else, Americans. And our nation, on this Veterans Day and every day, is forever fortunate to have you as citizens, and forever in your debt.

I am extremely proud to be a part of this special day, and I wish you great success in all your future endeavors. Thank you for choosing to serve our great nation.

I wish you all a healthy and happy Veterans Day. God bless you, our nation’s Veterans, those currently serving in uniform, and all of their families, caregivers, and survivors.

May we always serve you as well as you have served us.

Thank you.