Mr. Aytes is acting deputy director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security. The agency organized the Tegucigalpa ceremony where Mr. Aytes administered the oath to Sgt. Villa and a comrade from the Honduras-based U.S. Joint Task Force Bravo.
Honduras is the 15th foreign country where the agency has staged such ceremonies since 2004 but the first in Latin America, he said.
The troops sworn in at such events “are our premium customers,” he said. “We follow them ‘round the world, wherever they are serving.”
He added that the agency stages a few such events every month — ranging in size from events like Wednesday’s, welcoming just a couple of new citizens, to ones for several hundred. Ceremonies have been held in war zones — Iraq and Afghanistan — on battleships, and at U.S. bases in Europe and Asia.
The ceremony was “a very emotional affair,” said Sgt. Rebecca Danet, a spokeswoman for Joint Task Force Bravo. “I teared up.”
Mr. Aytes said such reactions are typical, which could explain why even the most battle-hardened participants can feel a bit nervous.
“There’s nothing more magnificent than seeing these brave men and women” take the oath. “We are recognizing the commitment that they have made,” he said.
The existing program — and its piloted expansion — provoked a rare moment of unity from immigration advocates and critics, who voiced support.
“A very narrow and tailored program like this [MAVNI pilot] is worth giving a try,” said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that supports strict limits on immigration.
“My concern is the institutional pressures are always going to be to expand these kinds of measures,” he said. “We don’t want to end up using foreigners as cheap labor for the military.”
These concerns are dismissed by immigration advocates.
“I think we can all agree that someone who risks his or her life and fights for our country should be allowed to become a citizen,” said Glen Wasserstein, an attorney who advocates expanding legal immigration.