Thank you, President Fenves, for speaking your truth. And may others continue to do so, as well.
- The UT president’s father survived Auschwitz to start a new life in America.
- Immigrants make America “better, richer and stronger,” Gregory L. Fenves told newly naturalized citizens.
Fenves, a first-generation American, has previously said little publicly about his family’s experience during World War II. He chose to touch on it at a time when immigration is much in the news.
His father lived in a Hungarian province of Serbia. The family, being Jewish, was imprisoned in concentration camps by the Nazis. His father wound up in Auschwitz.
“They lost their freedom. They lost their homes, their jobs and many friends and family members died along the way,” the UT president told 1,158 people from 98 countries who were sworn in by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel at the Delco Activity Center in Northeast Austin.
“But my father, his sister, some of his cousins and my grandfather survived the Holocaust,” Fenves said. “And after the war ended, my grandfather shared a dream with his remaining family in the short time he had left to live — that one day, they would immigrate to the United States to live a better life. And my dad, Steven, made that dream come true.”
After arriving in the states, Fenves’ father served in the military because it offered a quicker path to citizenship. Fenves’ wife, Carmel, is the granddaughter of immigrants from Mexico.
“To put it simply, my life, Carmel’s life and the lives of our children and our grandchild in this country would not have happened without the courage of immigrants,” said Fenves, who, like his father, became a structural engineer and a professor.
“My family’s story is not new in this country. In fact, the United States is built on millions of stories like ours — like yours,” he told the new citizens. “You have been making an impact on this country for a long, long time. You have worked. You have gone to school. You have made our community better, richer and stronger.”
Fenves steered clear of any overt mention of politics in a week that saw various immigration-related developments, including the U.S. Supreme Court allowing President Donald Trump to forge ahead with a limited version of his ban on travel from six mostly Muslim countries to the United States.
Meanwhile, lawyers for Texas and numerous cities, including Austin, are battling state and federal lawyers in federal court over Senate Bill 4, the so-called sanctuary cities ban. The state law says cities, counties and universities can’t have policies preventing officers from inquiring into the immigration status of a person under lawful detention or arrest.
PHOTOS: UT President Fenves addresses new American citizens at a naturalization ceremony
But for the immigrants at the Delco center, it was a day of smiles, with pomp and circumstance including a soaring rendition of “America the Beautiful” by Chorus Austin and presentation of colors by the Sons of the American Revolution Color Guard.
“I’m happy, very happy,” said Kim Sung, an upholstery worker from South Korea holding a small American flag.
Marcus Pimental Tellez, a truck driver from Cuba, agreed, “It’s feeling good.”