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.
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.
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. Their 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)