Participants at Trump's White House Citizenship Ceremony Didn't Know It Would Air During RNC: Reports
One critic called the Trump campaign's use of the ceremony "totally unacceptable and gross"
Some of the new citizens that President Donald Trump congratulated during the second night of the Republican National Convention say they weren't aware their naturalization ceremony would air during the political event, according to multiple news reports.
A number of former Obama and Bush-era appointees at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have since spoken out on social media, while The New York Times reported Wednesday that some senior officials at USCIS voiced disapproval over the ceremony's use for a politicized event.
“It’s one of the things that shouldn’t be politicized, and you can hardly get more political than your partisan political convention,” Barbara Strack, a retired chief of the refugee affairs division at USCIS during the two previous administrations, told the Times.
Salih Abdul Samad and Sudha Sundari Narayanan told the Times that they knew Trump would attend their ceremony but they were not made aware the ceremony would air later during the political convention — though they did not speak negatively about the political use of the ceremony.
“I’m not a politics person,” Neimat Abdelazim Awadelseid, a 66-year-old substitute teacher, told The Wall Street Journal. “I’m excited to have rights as every citizen in the United States.” (Awadelseid declined to tell the Times whether she knew the ceremony, which was held earlier Tuesday, would be shown at the RNC.)
A spokesperson for the White House told PEOPLE that the campaign's use of video from the ceremony did not violate any laws because the White House had first published the content on its website — a public domain.
The Trump campaign, which did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment, then re-shared the footage during the RNC on Tuesday night.
"The President held a naturalization ceremony and pardoned an individual which were official White House events," the spokesperson said in a statement. "The White House publicized the content of both events on a public website yesterday afternoon and the campaign decided to use the publically (sic) available content for campaign purposes."
The president has made limiting immigration — both legal and illegal — a central part of his administration after successfully campaigning, in part, on the issue, such as a promise to build a southern border wall. He also has a history of offensive and inflammatory statements about immigrants from certain parts of the world.
Trump called Mexican immigrants "rapists" during the 2016 election cycle and he also called some African nations "s------- countries" and claimed people from Haiti "all have AIDS,” according to a December 2017 Times report. (He disputed this.)
The decision to air the naturalization ceremony during the RNC was also seen by critics of the Trump administration as another act of blending government responsibilities with overt political promotion.
Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy institute, tweeted that airing the ceremony during a convention advocating for Trump's re-election was "totally unacceptable and gross."
Trump's campaign and his administration have faced criticism already for hosting portions of the RNC on federal property, and thus seemingly violating the Hatch Act, including First Lady Melania Trump's address Tuesday night in the White House Rose Garden.
The president will accept the Republican Party's nomination for a second time on Thursday night while speaking from the White House's South Lawn.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a government ethics watchdog group, filed a complaint Thursday morning with the Office of Special Counsel, arguing that acting secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolfe had violated the Hatch Act by overseeing the naturalization ceremony Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.
“By participating in this event that mixed official government business with support of a political party and a candidate for partisan political office, Mr. Wolf appears to have used his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election,” the group's executive director, Noah Bookbinder, wrote in the complaint, according to the AP. “His participation in ... this event constitutes political activity prohibited by law.”