Judge Suspended for Telling New U.S. Citizens to Accept Trump or 'Go to Another Country'

by | November 22, 2016

By Guillermo Contreras

A federal judge under fire for reportedly telling newly sworn-in U.S. citizens last week that Donald Trump is "your president, and if you don't like that, you need to go to another country," was suspended Monday from overseeing further citizenship ceremonies.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John Primomo said he was not trying to tell the new Americans to leave if they didn't like Trump.

"I would never say anything like that. I wasn't trying to say anything for or against Donald Trump," Primomo, 64, said. "I was just trying to say something hopeful and unifying and unfortunately it was taken out of context."

Despite his assurances, the U.S. district judges at San Antonio's federal courthouse -- who appoint and oversee federal magistrate judges -- issued a statement saying they "have determined that he will no longer be handling citizenship ceremonies, and the judges are meeting with him to see how this matter can be resolved and concluded."

Primomo has been a go-to judge for such ceremonies since 1989, and has sworn in more than 100,000 new citizens. The ceremonies are held roughly once a month, in various venues, and can include live bands, singing, speeches from guests or testimony from participants.

But Primomo, who's been on the bench since 1988, caused a firestorm after a video report over the weekend by a local television station, KENS, that covered a ceremony last week at the Institute of Texan Cultures.

Primomo told KENS that he meant to urge people to be respectful of the office of the president and said he didn't vote for Donald Trump himself. But the report thrust Primomo into the national news -- and into the approving embrace of many conservative websites. He called it "a difficult situation."

The federal courthouse, meanwhile, has received dozens of calls and emails, some of them profane, from people upset with his comments, including some Texas Democratic officeholders. No one, however, has filed a formal complaint.

Primomo said he made some positive remarks about the democratic process at last week's ceremony but said the TV report only contained a portion of them.

"I can assure you that whether you voted for (Trump) or you did not vote for him, if you are a citizen of the United States, he is your president," Primomo told the new citizens, according to the KENS report. "He will be your president, and if you do not like that, you need to go to another country."

The TV report said Primomo also criticized American protesters who carry signs saying Trump is "not my president," including some in San Antonio. And Primomo lashed out against pro football players who take a knee during the national anthem, the KENS story said.

"I detest that, because you can protest things that happen in this country; you have every right to," Primomo said. "You don't do that by offending national symbols like the national anthem and the flag of the United States."

Magistrate judges serve terms of eight years if full-time. The district judges here have reappointed Primomo several times. His current term expires in July 2020 but he is eligible for retirement next year, when he turns 65.

Under federal law, a magistrate judge can be removed only for incompetence, misconduct, neglect of duty or if mental or physical disability interferes with his or her job.

Democrats are "deeply disappointed that this judge used his position in the judiciary to silence the voice of Texans," Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said Monday.

"The American experiment works when people have the freedom to speak out, vote, ultimately hold their government accountable," Garcia said. "New citizens re-energize our faith in America."

Robert Stovall, chair of the Republican Party of Bexar County, said he has attended naturalization ceremonies conducted by Primomo and other judges and thinks all of them take care to keep politics out of such occasions.

"I think his message may have been that 'You're new citizens and you may not get the person that you wanted, so get out there and be active,' and that's how our democratic process works," Stovall said.

(c)2016 the San Antonio Express-News