FORT WORTH — When people end up in federal court before U.S. Magistrate Jeffrey Cureton, it’s usually for something bad.
Not on Thursday.
Just before 10 a.m., 60 men and women from 27 countries filed into Cureton’s court, where they officially became U.S. citizens after an inspirational naturalization ceremony.
“This is one of the more pleasurable duties that we, as federal judges, get to do,” Cureton told the standing-room-only crowd inside the Eldon B. Mahon U.S. Courthouse. “…Thank you for letting me enjoy this ceremony with you.”
Shortly after the group took their Oath of Allegiance, Cureton invited Benson Varghese, founder and managing partner of Varghese Summersett PLLC, to speak to the group about his own journey to U.S. citizenship.
Varghese said he was born in Kerala, a state in the southern tip of India. He was about 1-year-old when his family came to the United States.
“I remember being a young child and my dad having to work two jobs, one full-time, one part-time, at basically minimum wage just to make ends meet,” Varghese said. “I’m sure many of you can relate. Some days were a struggle.”
Varghese said that, around middle school, his parents were concerned that he “wasn’t going down the best path.” He was getting into fights and his grades were dropping.
“They were concerned I had no idea where I came from and that I could not appreciate the principles and values that they held dear to their hearts,” Varghese said.
So, they sent him back to India.
“I didn’t know anything about India,” Varghese said. “It was a country that was foreign to me, where people spoke a language I did not know. Time seemed to move at a slower pace.”
Varghese said he met his grandparents and became immersed in a culture that was vastly different from the United States. He worked on a rubber plantation and didn’t always have running water or power. Along the way, in the absence of creature comforts, Varghese said he came to fully understand what his parents had gone through to give him the opportunity to live the American Dream.
“I learned what respect meant, why it is important to respect your elders, and why my parents valued education so much,” he said.
“Getting to know that culture added so much to my life. Language, culture, values, business — I learned so much about all those things during my time there.”
Returning to the United States was not an easy task either, because although Varghese considered America home, he was born in India and could not become a naturalized citizen until he turned 18. Due to the sheer number of applications, it took three attempts before Varghese was granted permission to return home.
Upon his return, Varghese quickly embraced educational opportunities. He attended and graduated from Southern Methodist University and graduated from law school at Texas Tech University. Today, he runs a successful criminal defense firm in downtown Fort Worth.
“My journey,” Varghese said, “taught me a few things.”
He encouraged the new citizens, many of whom were holding American flags, to value education, get involved in their community, and to never forget where they came from. Most of all, he said, take what America has to offer, and follow in the very American tradition of leaving things better than you found them.
“This country was created by people who came from other countries,” Varghese said. “Every person who follows in the tradition of making things better improves opportunities for not only their children and the next generation, but future generations of Americans to come. I wish you all the best in your journey.”