Legionnaires representing Ohio's Buckeye Boys State program presented Sept. 28 at the Legion's American Conference, speaking about their program's policy of admitting non-citizen delegates. (Photo by Tom Strattman)

Non-citizens have special role in Ohio Boys State

Buckeye Boys State’s willingness to admit non-citizens into its program is based on a simple theory: There’s no better way to teach a young man who was born on foreign soil the value of being an American than to immerse him in a Boys State program for a week.

It’s on this mantra that Ohio Boys State has based its long-standing policy of accepting applicants who were born in a different country but are here legally. The program not only allows them admittance, it also allows them to file petitions, run for office and be considered for all awards and acknowledgements, including the Samsung American Legion Legacy Scholarship and the honor of representing Ohio in the annual Boys Nation.

“What better way to educate young men who are non-citizens on our form of government and the rights of American citizens under our government than to provide them the opportunity to immerse themselves in the process and learn firsthand how our government operates,” said Gerald A. White, director of Buckeye Boys State.

The process of admitting and accommodating non-citizens begins with the application process. High school juniors who are applying to Buckeye Boys State are asked to specify on their applications whether they hold U.S. citizenship, and if not, what their country of origin is.

This takes special significance at the inaugural caucus meetings at Buckeye Boys State. There, each delegate is told that he is now a citizen of American Legion Buckeye Boys State who holds all the inherent rights and responsibilities that come with it. This includes voting, running for office and being a good steward to the program.

The experience that a non-citizen has in the program also serves as an enticement for him to seek naturalization – a process that The American Legion as a whole actively endorses for individuals who are here from other countries.

“The Boys State experience may serve as a motivation or further the motivation of a young man to want to become a citizen of the United States,” White said.

That sentiment came to fruition several years ago when a delegate who is a French citizen attended Buckeye Boys State. The delegate had completed all the steps of naturalization and arranged, along with his parents and program administrators, to have his official swearing-in ceremony during his week at Boys State. In front of 1,200 delegates, program staff and American Legion officials, the young man officially became a citizen of the United States.

It’s moments like these, White says, that remind him and his staff of why it’s important to open the program to young men from all over.

“American Legion Buckeye Boys State will continue to welcome young men who are non-citizens into our program as a vehicle for the state of Ohio and the United States of America to educate these young men on the government process of our state and to encourage non-citizens to become a citizen of the greatest country in the world,” White said.