October 2020 – As major U.S. cities work to safely welcome new immigrants amid the pandemic, 50 people from 22 different countries became U.S. citizens on Thursday in Oklahoma’s first outdoor, drive-in naturalization ceremony at Admiral Twin Drive-In; the historic theater featured in The Outsiders movie.
The ceremony is Tulsa’s single-largest, yet, with nearly 400 new immigrants now having naturalized in Tulsa since the City started hosting ceremonies in April of 2019 as a part of its New Tulsans Initiative.
“In Tulsa, we recognize the risks and challenges people face when they leave their homeland to become United States citizens, and we want Tulsa to live up to that sacrifice,” Mayor G.T. Bynum said. “That is why we started hosting citizenship ceremonies at City Hall, and we love the opportunity to honor our newest fellow Americans. But with the onset of the pandemic, we haven’t been able to serve as many as we would like. That is what makes this event so exciting: it is a naturalization ceremony truly unique to Tulsa at the historic Admiral Twin Drive-In, with people from more than 20 countries becoming United States citizens. I am thankful for the team at the Admiral Twin and thankful I got to share this moment with our fellow Tulsans.”
After U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) temporarily suspended naturalization ceremonies countrywide in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tulsa resumed hosting smaller ceremonies at Tulsa City Hall in July to keep participants safe, operating on a limited capacity where only 10 people could naturalize at one time indoors. With the space and ability for participants to socially distance in their cars at the drive-in theater, the City found a unique and safe way to help more people naturalize at one time.
On Thursday, future U.S. citizens sat in their cars and tuned into the theater’s FM radio station to hear the festivities, as they would if they were there to see a movie. As USCIS read their countries of origin, each immigrant honked their horns, stepped out with their masks on and stood next to their vehicles to take their oaths of allegiance. The 50 people who naturalized were accompanied by family and friends, all of whom sat in their vehicles as they watched Tulsa’s newest citizens naturalize.
“Tulsa has always been a welcoming and resilient community – that was best shown when our theater burned down and our friends in Tulsa rallied behind us and helped us build it back better,” said Blake Smith, Owner of Admiral Twin Drive-In. “We’re incredibly thankful to be able to have the environment that we do that can allow this sort of thing, especially in a time where we have to put some space in between ourselves and others to help prevent the spread of this virus.”
Thursday’s naturalization ceremony was held just in time for Tulsa's newest citizens, ages 18 and over, to register to vote ahead of Oklahoma's October 9 voter registration deadline for the November 3 election.
As part of the New Tulsans Initiative, the City of Tulsa began hosting United States Naturalization Ceremonies in 2019 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at Tulsa City Hall. To date, the City of Tulsa has hosted 11 naturalization ceremonies and welcomed nearly 400 new immigrants to Tulsa.