Posted On Dec 28 2019
They made their way to the United States from 100 countries with the hope of freedom and the chance to become an American. That dream came true Friday for 7,018 immigrants, who took the oath of citizenship during two joy-filled ceremonies at the Los Angeles Convention Center. “It’s so amazing,” said Maria Elena, 33, a Mexican immigrant who got her green card in 1997, five years after arriving in the United States. “For the right to vote. For my husband. For my children. Everybody in my family is a citizen,” she said, “and I wanted to be one, too.” Omar Espejal was smuggled across the border from Tijuana and into California with his family when he was 13. They later became legal residents, and Friday – 17 years later and after only six months of waiting – he and his wife were able to embrace the “American” in Mexican-American. “It’s a great honor to be part of a nation. There’s not another one like this in the world,” said his wife, Imelda, whose family immigrated with green cards in 1989. Every person spoken to noted one new privilege above all else: the right to vote. “No. 1, I can vote,” said Akeem Lambert, an 18-year-old college student who emigrated six years ago from Guyana in South America. “I already felt like I was part of the community, but it is officially saying, `You are welcomed into society. You are one of us.”‘ That, in fact, was the message from President Bush, who spoke to his newest constituents via videotape. “Today, the United States is not only your home, it is your country,” the president said in a message recorded long before the recent round of immigration-reform discord. “You now go forward as citizens of a free nation.” After the second ceremony, California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held a news conference outside the exhibition hall and encouraged people to register to vote. “It’s important that you speak out. Just the other day, some 500,000 people marched for the right to have the American Dream,” Villaraigosa said, referring to the rally in downtown L.A. over a proposed immigration reform bill. In fiscal 2005-06, some 500,000 immigrants became U.S. citizens, including 95,000 in the Los Angeles region. It takes the district Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services an average of seven months to process citizenship applications, according to officer-in-charge Mary Esther Johnson. The more difficult task is getting into the country as a legal resident, which can take years. [email protected] (818) 713-3436160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl eventAs politicians grapple with immigration reform and the debate over immigrants’ rights continues, the citizenship ceremony held each month in Los Angeles was a reminder that people don’t simply want to live in the United States – they want to be a part of the nation’s blood. “It warms my heart to know that so many of you were willing to strive so hard to become part of this country,” Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Walsh said after the afternoon session. “America is a land of immigrants.” Walsh related how his grandparents had arrived at Ellis Island from Ireland, poor and lacking job skills. “Here, in just two generations, their kids have made it,” he said. The new citizens had immigrated from Afghanistan and Australia, China and Colombia. Mexico was the source of the largest number to the Los Angeles region – 1,842 people – followed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Iran and China.