Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told a group of new American citizens at the federal courthouse Friday that their adopted country is still the land of opportunity.
While not an immigrant, the Pittsburgh native used his own story as inspiration, recounting how he was abandoned as an infant to a Hill District orphanage within sight of the courthouse where he was speaking and rose to become a top adviser to the president.
No one would have dreamed that "I would start in an orphanage and end up in the Cabinet," he said during a naturalization ceremony in a cavernous eighth-floor courtroom.
"That's the great thing about America."
Mr. Vilsack, ex-governor of Iowa and a former presidential candidate, told the crowd of immigrants that they have obligations as Americans.
He told them to vote, get involved in their local communities, work hard, volunteer and stay engaged in making America stronger with their contributions.
The nation was built by immigrants, he said, and its resilience is a result of that diversity.
"Today, we carry on that tradition," he said.
The new citizens, who came from Brazil, Russia, Peru, India and 21 other nations, were among 18,000 people being naturalized across the country this week in connection with Citizenship Day and Constitution Day to honor the signing of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia on Sept. 17, 1787.
The day is designed to pay tribute to the document that guarantees Americans their freedoms and also recognizes those who become naturalized.
The naturalization ceremony is a monthly occurrence at the federal courthouse. It's usually held every third Friday, and guest speakers are often invited to make the event more austere.
In addition to the usual words of encouragement and congratulations, Mr. Vilsack used the opportunity to briefly address one of his pet topics -- immigration reform.
He said while those in the courtroom were becoming legal citizens, 11 million others are in this country illegally. Many of them work in agriculture, and Mr. Vilsack has often said America's food production depends on them.
"Too many of them are living in the shadows," he said.
The Senate passed an immigration bill earlier this year that addressed some of those issues, such as creating an expedited path for farm workers to become citizens as long as they continue to work on farms year-round.
Torsten Ove: email@example.com or 412-231-0132.