On June 2, 2019, Marina Garcia Marmolejo, a district judge for the US Southern District, presided over a naturalization ceremony for 350 people who became citizens in Laredo, a Texas border town. The ceremony was one of 110 ceremonies nationwide that combined saw about 7,500 new citizens take their oaths.
Judge Marmolejo, who was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate in 2011, was born across the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. As a law student in San Antonio, Texas, she took her own oath to become a US citizen in 1996. Regarding her role presiding over naturalization ceremonies, she said, “This is the most joyous thing that we get to do. The majority of our docket is criminal nature. We have a civil docket. For us, this is a joyous occasion.”
After law school, Judge Marmolejo worked her way through private law firms and as an assistant public defender in Texas districts. As a naturalized citizen herself, she is no stranger to the sacrifices and challenges that the naturalization process entails. "The people, they all here today have made a very big sacrifice to come to our country and do so the right way. It's been years for some of them to fill out applications and go through interviews. Today is the culmination of all of that hard work," she told Newsweek. Indeed, the naturalization process is “expensive, it's long, but it's worth it," according to Roberto Cruz, one of the new citizens to take their oaths in Laredo, Texas. The Washington Post reported last year that citizenship applications tend to peak around presidential election years, and experts and advocates say that more stringent policies and forms—instituted by both the Trump and Obama administrations—have prevented USCIS from meeting the growing demand.
Judge Marmolejo, who has played a pivotal role for so many immigrants on the same journey that she once traversed, said officiating such naturalization oaths was "indescribable.” She added, "If someone had said to me that I would be presiding over these ceremonies when I took my own oath, I think I would have been incredulous."