Wrigley Field plays host to swearing-in ceremony for 172 new citizensMitch Dudekon July 2, 2021 at 9:09 pm

The Friendly Confines took on a new meaning Friday when 172 new citizens of the United States were sworn in during a ceremony at Wrigley Field.

The ballpark, for about 30 minutes, was transformed into the nation’s largest federal courtroom to provide the proper setting for a special naturalization ceremony to welcome people from more than 40 countries.

The federal district court seal — an eagle holding a red, white and blue shield — was beamed onto the giant video screen in right field.

The word “Welcome” in dozens of languages was on the video screen in left field.

Under a cloudless sky, Judge John Lee presided over the ceremony from a podium atop the Cubs dugout.

“Wrigley Field seems like an environment that is sustained by the spirit of people who love it,” Franklyn Eke, who’s originally from Nigeria and became a citizen Friday, said of Wrigley. In other words, he said, “This venue is very cool.”

It was the first time such a ceremony, normally reserved for a 25th-floor courtroom in the Dirksen Federal Building downtown, has been held at a sports venue in Chicago.

“Wrigley Field is 107 years old and when you’re 107 years old, you don’t get too many firsts, but this is a first,” said Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, who also took a moment to sell his team to the country’s newest Americans. “It is an honor to host you on this special day and we all hope that you’ll be back here many, many, many, times.”

Chief Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer, a Cubs fan, got the ball rolling on having a special naturalization ceremony at a Chicago sports arena after she took the reins at Chicago’s federal courthouse in 2019.

“Wrigley Field has a complicated history. It has been the setting for struggle, sacrifice, hardship, hard work and heartbreak,” she told the new citizens. “But it’s also a symbol of dedication, hard work, beating the odds and triumphant wins. It also humbly reminds all of us in the hopes that the next season is always going to be a brighter one.”

For Hector Perez, 38, citizenship means he’ll be able to visit relatives in Mexico for the first since his mother brought him to the United States 30 years ago. Concern over leaving the country and not being allowed to return has prevented such a trip.

“Today I’m very happy,” said Perez, of Downers Grove.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, one of several elected officials to attend the event, recalled how his great-grandfather Nicholas Pritzker arrived in the United States as a penniless immigrant escaping antisemitism in Europe and succeeded in building a life for himself and his family.

“It’s a beautiful thing to watch dreams come to life,” he said.

Before leaving, each new citizen — decked out in a Cubs hat provided by the ball club — was invited to take a picture in the Cubs on-deck circle next to an American flag.

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