Remarks by Director Andrei Iancu at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony

June 1, 2018

Remarks delivered at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Naturalization Ceremony

Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Andrei Iancu

June 1, 2018

Alexandria, Virginia

As prepared for delivery

Good morning, and thank you, Sarah, for that introduction.

On behalf of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (UPSTO), I’m delighted to welcome you to our agency on this very special and momentous day.

I welcome all the candidates for citizenship here with us today. I’m thrilled for you, and I am thrilled for this country to have you. I also welcome all of the people who are here with the candidates: your family, friends, and loved ones who have supported you throughout this journey to American citizenship.

Let’s show them all our thanks.

I was born in Romania in the late 1960s. I came to America in 1981 with my family, at the height of the Cold War. We arrived with very few personal possessions, and I spoke virtually no English. I attended public high school in California, and then public university for all of my degrees.

In the mid-1980s, I attended a ceremony just like this one, where I became a naturalized American citizen. That was a day I will never forget, just like you will not forget today.

In September 2017, President Trump nominated me to be Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In February 2018, the United States Senate voted unanimously to confirm my nomination.

My story is a testament to the true promise of this country, and the fundamental goodness of its people.

But my story is not unique.

American history is full of remarkable achievements by immigrants, and children of immigrants, who far exceeded my own contributions.

Take, for instance, Eli Harari, who immigrated to the United States from Israel. Harari obtained his Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University on a research scholarship from the U.S. Office of Naval Research. In 1972, Harari’s ties to America were cemented when he married his wife in the backyard of his sister’s home in Los Angeles, and the following year, when his first daughter was born.

During the day, Harari worked at a major corporation, and at night he would invent things on his own. One day, while on his way to a technical conference in Colorado with his young daughter in the back seat, Harari came up with the idea for electrically erasable programmable read-only memory, also known as EEPROM.

Before long, Harari wanted to strike out on his own, so in the prime of his career, with a family at home, Harari left his comfortable life with major corporations and started a company. He risked everything: his career, his finances, and his family.

That entrepreneurial spirit is not unusual among immigrants, by the way, as we first risk everything to leave our countries of birth and come to a brand new place.

Harari’s first company actually did not work out well, so a few years later Harari risked it all again and launched a company called SanDisk. Harari started SanDisk with former colleagues Sanjay Mehrotra, an immigrant from India, and Jack Yuan, an immigrant from Taiwan.

All three founders were immigrants to America.

Their flash technology came to be used almost universally in devices like digital cameras and cell phones. In 2016, Western Digital acquired SanDisk for $16 billion.

And in 2017, Eli Harari was inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Take also Hedy Lamarr, who was born in Austria during World War I and came to the U.S. to be an actress.

She is best known for her classic movies like Samson and Delilah from 1949. But what most people don’t know is that she was also an inventor. Indeed, Lamarr not only had a complete inventing table set up in her house, but she also had equipment in her trailer, where she stayed in-between takes while filming her motion pictures.

In late 1940, Lamarr had an idea for a remote-controlled torpedo guidance system that would enable Allied torpedoes to fly undetected by the Nazis. What Lamarr realized was that a constantly changing frequency is much harder to detect.

Lamarr called her idea “frequency hopping.”

On June 10, 1941, Hedy Lamarr and her partner filed a patent application for their “Secret Communication System.” And in August 1942, they received Patent No. 2,292,387 for their jamming-proof technology. And though they never profited from this invention, it was nonetheless a pioneering development in wireless communications.

What Hedy Lamarr called “frequency hopping” sparked the idea for spread-spectrum, which went on to shape modern technologies such as GPS, Bluetooth in headsets and phones, and U.S. military guided missiles.

The basics of the technology are still in use, and some estimate that it is worth about $30 billion today.

These are the stories of America.

Eli Harari and Hedy Lamarr and countless other immigrants coming to this country for freedom and opportunity, dreaming big, taking risks, working hard, and helping to change the world for the better.

And this is the promise of America: of all the places around the world, of all the nations throughout history, it is here, in the United States, that freedom is real and opportunity is true.    

During World War II, Romania (where I am from) was on the front lines of the darkest hours of human history. A well-known Romanian author at the time—who was opposed to the fascist furors sweeping the country—kept a journal where he recorded his observations almost daily.

The author’s name was Mihail Sebastian. His journal was found and published just recently, many years after his death.

Sebastian wrote of the bombings of Bucharest, of the persecutions and atrocities perpetrated by the regime, of the relentless attacks on basic humanity and on personal freedoms. Day after day, the darkness grew deeper. And he wrote about it.

Remarkably enough, the only thing that gave him and his family hope came from thousands of miles away: news broadcasts from America that they’d be able to catch on clandestine radios.

One night in particular, in the middle of late-night bombings, hungry and cold with all hope lost, he and his family huddled close to their only remaining radio, listening intently to an American broadcast that he termed “full of confidence, expectant of certain victory.”

The only glimmer of hope. And then Sebastian wrote something that I can never forget:

He said, “Glued to our radios, we lived in a world which, though so far away, we consider our own.”

There they were, 1940s Romania in the middle of a war, poor, persecuted, dispossessed of all dignity, and never having been to America, yet they considered it their own. This is the pull this country has on people across the world; America’s promise of hope and freedom lives in the imagination of all. And that promise is real. You and I are living proof of it. 

There are 170 candidates from 57 countries in this room here today to become citizens of the United States. Each of you has walked a very unique path to reach this day, but you have all answered the same call:  America’s call of freedom, opportunity, and the dignity of work.

And as our newest citizens, I’m grateful that you will be joining our country’s rich tapestry of people from all backgrounds. I am confident that your contributions will be great, and that ours will be a better country because of them.

As you take your oath of allegiance today, know that each of your individual backgrounds, perspectives, and skills bring something special and unique to our country.

Congratulations on your citizenship, and thank you for choosing to become Americans and taking the steps necessary to fulfill that dream.