An emotional Attorney General Merrick B. Garland spoke to new citizens Saturday at Ellis Island, which told his family’s American origin story, and warned that the country had become divided dangerously divided by political factionalism, which has undermined democracy and the rule of law.
Mr. Garland was presiding over the oath of allegiance for 250 naturalized citizens at the iconic immigration processing center on the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution in 1787. As new Americans rose to recognize their homeland. about 60 of them, with roots from Albania to Yemen – he told them the United States “welcomes you wholeheartedly.”
In a 10-minute speech in which he repeatedly stopped to collect himself, the attorney general recounted the story of his grandmother’s flight from the anti-Semitism regime in what is now Belarus before World War II, and the narrow escape to New York of his mother-in-law, who had fled Austria after the Nazis annexed the country in 1938.
“My family story is what motivated me to choose a career in public service,” the stern attorney general would often say, his voice dropping to a hoarse whisper. “I want to repay the country for bringing my family when they had nowhere else to go. I want to pay the debt my family owes this country for our own lives.”
Everything Mr. Garland says these days is analyzed for deeper meanings – and prosecution clues – as the Justice Department conducts extensive, extensive investigations into former President Donald J. Trump and his allies. The attorney general often uses public appearances to refer to Mr. Trump and Trumpism in obscure but unmistakable terms, denigrate divisions and vow to arrest “those in power”. ” must be held accountable for the crimes they commit.
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But Saturday’s speech came at a pivotal time, as Mr Garland pledged to investigate possible crime by a former president who remains a political force, and has repeatedly attacked Mr Garland. , his division and the FBI.
Mr. Trump has stated that he continues to enjoy executive privilege as a former president, despite counter-legal precedent, throughout his battle with the Justice Department over the retention of documents. top secret. Mr. Garland rejected that argument, and the department in court filings rejected the idea that the former president deserves protection not for other citizens under federal surveillance.
“The protection of the law – the rule of law – is the foundation of our system of government,” said Mr. Garland, a light, upright figure beneath the soaring barrel arch in the immigration museum’s grand lobby. , which served as the point of entry for millions of immigrants from 1892 to 1954.
“The rule of law means that the law treats each of us the same: There is no one rule for friends, another for enemies; one rule for the strong, another for the powerless; one rule for the rich, another for the poor,” he said, adding that the rule of law “is fragile, it requires constant effort and vigilance. “
All Americans have a responsibility to “do what’s right, even if that means doing what’s hard,” he said.
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Difficulties many difficulties. In recent days, federal prosecutors have expanded their investigation into the former president’s role in the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, issued more than 40 new subpoenas to potential witnesses. However, Mr. Trump scored an important legal victory by securing the appointment of an outside arbitrator to review highly sensitive government documents confiscated from his Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, on August 8.
At the same time, Republicans are embracing Mr. Trump’s signature issue – illegal immigration – as a showcase theme for this fall’s midterm elections. On Wednesday, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, a possible Trump opponent in 2024, sent about 50 Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard Island in Massachusetts in a publicity stunt.
Some Democrats have called on Mr. Garland to launch a federal investigation into Mr. DeSantis’ actions; A spokesman for the attorney general was not available for comment.
Mr. Garland, who wrote his speech with the same caution he used to appellate decisions, planned to speak about his support for immigrants long before Mr. DeSantis did. make its move, according to officials.
But recent developments have added emotional stakes – and boosted the memory of his grandmother’s flight from the Pale of Settlement, a large swath of present-day Eastern Europe and Russia where several organizations His Jewish ancestors were among those imprisoned, persecuted, and ultimately massacred by the Third Reich.
“My grandmother was one of five children,” he said, adding: “Three people went to the United States, including my grandmother, who went to the port of Baltimore. The two of them didn’t make it. Those two were killed during the Holocaust.”
The attendees, who were in a festive mood, whispering after taking the oath, needed a few minutes of silence after Mr. Garland began speaking.
But the last room fell silent as he talked about his family, and many new citizens said as they spoke afterward, citizenship certificates in hand, that his story resonated with the public. surname.
“It really happened to me,” said Mamy Tai, 39, a babysitter from Ivory Coast who now lives in Harlem. “I love America. I love that I get to be a citizen. Here, they give you a chance to be what you want to be.”