Mimesis Law
22 April 2019

The Gold Star

May, 4, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Last week, on Thursday, I conducted a naturalization proceeding in Kearney, Nebraska. See here. Fifty people became new citizens, but hundreds were in attendance. The proceedings were held at The Great Platte River Road Archway, a perfect place for the ceremony since it celebrates and teaches about the westward migration that began around 1840 and included immigrants from all over the world.

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The program, prepared by the officials from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, called upon me to begin the proceedings by leading those assembled in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. I wasn’t pleased. To be frank, I have never liked the Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t know why I dislike it, but I am pretty sure it has something to do with the faint echoes of the Hitler oath:

I swear by God this holy oath that I want to offer unconditional obedience to the Führer of the German Reich and people, Adolf Hitler, the commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht, and be prepared as a brave soldier to risk my life for this oath at any time.

Instead of leading the pledge in my black robe, with all the government power to compel submission that robe symbolizes, I asked an applicant to come up on the platform and stand with me so she could lead the recitation of the pledge. Maria Daniela Galaviz from Grand Island, Nebraska agreed. In a clear voice, Maria did a wonderful job.

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Photo credit: Mike Konz, Kearney Hub. Maria is on the left. After nine years of working to become U.S. citizens, Maria Daniela Galaviz and Nancy Avitia Huerta of Grand Island, formerly Mexican citizens, display their certificates of naturalization.

All of the foregoing, however, is meant merely to set the scene. That’s because what happened after the ceremony was over is what I want to punctuate, albeit briefly. Here goes.

I sentence a lot people to prison—the District of Nebraska has the 7th highest criminal load in the nation. Many of those I sentence are from Mexico. Some have become American citizens, and some came across the border without permission.

Some are gang members. That’s not surprising at all. Immigrants have joined gangs for a long time. If you doubt me, watch Martin Scorsese’s film Gangs of New York. Among other things, the film portrays the nasty streak of nativism that has been present throughout our history and screams profanely even now. Yes, we are a nation of immigrants, but in our hearts many of us don’t much like it.

After the naturalization ceremony was over, I was introduced to a husband and wife who had just become citizens. I suppose they were in their early 50s. They had come from Mexico. They were introduced to me because they were Gold Star parents.  clip_image002Their son had been killed in Afghanistan while serving as a Marine. I couldn’t help it. I cupped the proud yet still grieving father’s face in my hands and thanked him. I kissed the forehead of the perfectly composed mother whose pain radiated from her in waves.

After I returned to the office on Friday, I learned that I had been (properly) reversed in the sentencing of a young Mexican from Grand Island who was associated with a gang. Grand Island is just down the road from where I encountered the Gold Star family. After I sentenced this young man to a terribly long sentence, the Johnson decision came down while the direct appeal was pending.

It is at this juncture that you expect me to make a concluding point. Sorry. The best I can say is that this post is nothing more than a vignette; that is, a small literary illustration that fades into its background without a definite border.

Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge (Nebraska)

4 Comments on this post.

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  • Gavin Peters
    4 May 2016 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Judge Koph,

    I hear those same echoes, and share the distaste for the US pledge of allegiance. As a non-citizen, I felt a bit queasy helping my citizen sons learn it.

    But it’s worth noting; the pledge of allegiance significantly predates the Hitler oath; 1892 vs 1934. Have you seen images of the Bellamy salute for the pledge of allegiance? The audience stretched their right arm out to the flag, which they were facing. It’s quite something to see:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pledge_of_Allegiance#/media/File:Students_pledging_allegiance_to_the_American_flag_with_the_Bellamy_salute.jpg

    It’s my understanding that congress dropped the Bellamy salute from the flag protocol law in December, 1942.

    • Richard G. Kopf
      4 May 2016 at 6:14 pm - Reply

      Thank you Gavin. I might add that the “under God” part was not added until 1954 or so.

      All the best.

      RGK

  • Anonymous
    4 May 2016 at 8:10 pm - Reply

    I remember taking the oath for the service. The officer who administered same took pains to explain that we were swearing allegiance to the Constitution, the rule of law, and not a man. He compared this to the oath taken by members of the Wehrmacht to Adolf Hitler. He wanted us to appreciate the distinction, and what it meant. That always stayed with me, and your post brought back a thoughtful memory.

    I don’t have a problem reciting the pledge of allegiance, I take the flag to be a symbol of the Constitution and the rule of law. But I don’t have a problem with anyone not comfortable with reciting same. I think the right not to say the pledge is part of what that young Marine gave his life.

    I feel the same way about the flag. I respect it, and would never desecrate it. I don’t appreciate seeing anyone act disrespectfully towards it, but I believe the First Amendment protects political expression. Maybe I’m wrong. Justice Stevens was a liberal, and felt very strongly that the flag was no ordinary symbol, and merited legal protection. I don’t remember the case, but I remember the dissent. I disagree with him on that, but his opinion certainly gave me pause to think when I read it.

    God bless that young man and his parents.

    • Richard Kopf
      5 May 2016 at 8:49 pm - Reply

      Anon.,

      Indeed, while I don’t believe in a God, if there is one, God should bless the young man and his wonderful parents. If, as I believe, there is no God, only people striving to be better than their rank impulses, let those of us who fit that persuasion bless that young man and his parents. Either way, it is humbling to encounter perfectly normal people who courageously confront, with amazing grace, an unspeakable horror. That’s true even though their skin is brown and they previously hailed from Mexico.

      All the best.

      RGK