When Dhimiter Cobani walked into Albany High School for his first day of classes, the then 14-year-old freshly arrived from Albania was stunned by the ethnic, cultural and racial diversity flowing through the halls.
“In Albania, everyone’s Albanian,” said Cobani, now 21 and entering his senior year as a scholarship student at St. Lawrence University.
On Independence Day, Cobani joined 28 other Capital Region residents from 19 nations being sworn in as new U.S. citizens at the Empire State Plaza. They became citizens as the nation has focused attention on the immigration crisis at the southern border and the legal issue of whether a citizenship issue should be included on the 2020 Census form.
“Not having that question will encourage people to complete the census. More data can definitely lead to more informed decision making,” Cobani said.
President Donald J. Trump’s administration had proposed adding the question, saying it was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act. The American Civil Liberties Union, various immigrant organizations and other groups have fought back, arguing it would suppress the count as undocumented immigrants would not participate and many regions may be under-represented.
The census data is used to determine the distribution of federal funding, representation in Congress and other federal programming that flows to the states.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June the Commerce Department had not provided adequate reasoning to justify adding the question. It appeared the issue was over, but Trump said his administration would pursue getting the question restored.
“That is not right. It’s going to impact at least the undocumented immigrants,” said Mohanraj “Mohan” Kothandasamy, 47, of Menands, who also became a citizen Thursday after 18 years in the United States.
Kothandasamy said it’s been a “big journey” to migrate from India to the U.S. To stand up and take the oath as a new citizen, he said, “I’m happy. I’m proud.”
The naturalization ceremonies in Albany and at the Saratoga National Historical Park in Stillwater were among 110 swearing-ins for nearly 7,500 new citizens between July 1 and July 5.
State Supreme Court Justice Michael C. Lynch administered the Oath of Allegiance taken by the new citizens. Cobani led them in the Pledge of Allegiance.
“In America, the diversity of our citizens enhances us all,” Lynch told the group. “In America, you can be yourself. You can pursue your dreams.”
Naseer Kohistani, 33, came from Afghanistan in 2014 through a special program. He had worked with U.S. forces in his homeland as a civil engineer and a translator. Kohistani lives in Clifton Park with his wife and their 3-month-old daughter, who was born here as a U.S. citizen.
He said he was proud to become a citizen. “It’s multi-cultural,” he said, adding he has no issues with a citizenship question being included on the census form next year.