Metro

Citizenship ceremonies are supposed to be festive. This one wasn’t.

Close to 350 people were sworn in as US citizens during a ceremony at Faneuil Hall.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Close to 350 people were sworn in as US citizens during a ceremony at Faneuil Hall.

Hours after President Trump banned people from Iran and six other nations a week ago, Asa Valenti went into labor in Cambridge.

Doctors said the timing was a coincidence, but the native of Iran is convinced that her frustration with Trump’s order propelled her daughter into the world. She had wept when he issued the order, because it meant that her mother back home could not get a visa to come to the United States.

And that predicament did not change even on Thursday, when Valenti became a US citizen.

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“I should be able to see my family,” said Valenti, a 35-year-old finance manager, eyes welling with tears, after she took the citizenship oath in Faneuil Hall as her daughter snoozed in a pink blanket nearby. “Trump took that away from me.”

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Valenti and 353 other immigrants were sworn in as citizens in an emotional ceremony in Faneuil Hall, the first in Boston since Trump issued the travel ban.

Trump said the order aims to protect national security. But immigrants say they were stunned that even green card holders — who are one step away from US citizenship — were temporarily detained or interrogated at airports from Boston to Los Angeles. On Wednesday, the White House finally clarified that the ban did not apply to green card holders.

Trump’s order blocked visa holders from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from the United States for 90 days, halted the entire refugee program for 120 days, and barred Syrian refugees indefinitely.

In the chaotic aftermath of his order, nonprofits renewed their calls for eligible immigrants to apply for US citizenship. Nearly 52 percent of the 1 million immigrants in Massachusetts are naturalized citizens, and nonprofits estimate that thousands more are eligible but haven’t applied.

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“The only security from deportation, detention, or exclusion is citizenship,” said Veronica Serrato, executive director of Project Citizenship, a nonprofit near Faneuil Hall that helps immigrants prepare for citizenship.

Serrato said the nonprofit’s telephones rang frequently after Trump’s order, running about 23 calls a day, even more than before the November election, when applications soared. Last year, the group helped over 1,500 people apply for citizenship.

At the citizenship ceremony Thursday in Faneuil Hall, where revolutionaries, abolitionists, and suffragists once gathered to debate, the crowd was solemn. Typically the mood at citizenship ceremonies is festive, with immigrants waving American flags and joyfully snapping photos.

But under Trump, immigrants said, they were unsure how to feel.

“It’s sad,” said Yuly Mosca, a nursing student from Colombia who also became a citizen.

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Federal Judge Patti Saris sought to reassure the new citizens. She quoted lyrics from the musical “Hamilton,” after former Treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton, who grew up in the Caribbean. She spoke of the work it had taken to reach this point. She reminded them that the Constitution protects everyone.

“We as a society cherish civil rights, including the civil rights of new Americans,” she said to loud applause.

Without mentioning Trump, she urged immigrants to take heart in her own story. Her grandparents arrived from Russia with little money. They did not speak English. But now she is a federal judge.

Asa Valenti from Iran and her husband Paul checked on their 6-day old baby Amelia after the ceremony.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Asa Valenti from Iran and her husband Paul checked on their 6-day old baby Amelia after the ceremony.

“So in the context of the heated rhetoric, I imagine that some of you may have turned on the TV or opened a paper or read a blog and thought about whether the United States remains welcome to immigrants,” Saris said. “Let me assure you, it does.”

Her speech soothed Rana Zerzaba. The 32-year-old civil engineer and mother of two had expected to feel safe in America after fleeing violence in Iraq in 2012.

“Everybody died, every day, every morning,” Zerzaba said. “A lot of people want to feel safe here in the USA. We know the USA is for all people.”

But she said the apparent targeting of Muslims made her afraid, whether it is wearing her gray hijab on the Red Line from Braintree to Boston or sending her 4-year-old daughter, who is autistic, to preschool.

“I am Muslim, but I am American,” she said. “I feel I am American. I feel no different.”

After nine years in the United States, Valenti felt the same mixed feelings after the citizenship ceremony. But she said she has wasted no time putting her new civic skills to work. She has contacted her federal representatives and written letters and was eager to speak to a journalist to tell her story.

Her mother was supposed to apply in person for a visa on Feb. 27 and join Valenti and her husband in their Cambridge apartment in March.

Instead, hours after her baby daughter was born — named Amelia, for the pilot Amelia Earhart, “a strong woman,” the consular office sent a text message cancelling her appointment. Last year, under President Obama, she received a visa within days.

“Because she’s a mother,” she said. “I just don’t get this.”

Rana Zerzaba from Iraq stood as the judge acknowledged her.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Rana Zerzaba from Iraq stood as the judge acknowledged her.

Maria Sacchetti can be reached at maria.sacchetti@globe.com.