American residents with origins in 23 different countries took the Naturalization Oath on Wednesday morning in federal court in Aberdeen.
“I want to say your country welcomes you. Your country needs your talents, needs your intelligence and the strengths you will bring to our society,” said Mark Keenum, president of Mississippi State University, in his keynote address. “We’re glad you’re here and we’re glad you’re one of us.”
The naturalization ceremony is the final step in the citizenship process, which began when they were first approved to live and work in the United States. After being in the United States five years, three if married to a United States citizen, a person can apply for citizenship. The application takes five months to process and then the applicant must take a reading, writing and civics test.
“These are wonderful, rich and heartwarming times where you have 50 people who have gone through a laborious process to become American citizens – who truly want to be American citizens – and have done everything right,” said U.S. Circuit Clerk David Crews. “They are all highly educated and contributing citizens and this is a really touching ceremony.”
Hussein Saed, formerly a citizen of Yemen, took the oath with a big grin while in a brand new suit. He said he wanted to go through the process of citizenship because American citizenship means you’re an equal and he also just really wanted to live here.
“I live here because I like it,” he said. “This is my love country man, America is my love country.”
Chet Neang left Cambodia because he wanted to live in a country where he was free to express himself. He said he wanted to be free to come and go and have the respect that comes with being an American citizen.
Alex Ordonez left Chile whenhe was in the eighth grade and is graduating from the University of Mississippi with a criminal justice degree.
“I want to be a police officer,” he said. “When I graduate I’m going out for the U.S. Marshals or Memphis Police. This gives me a chance to vote and do the right thing and go a step farther.”
He said being a police officer allows him to help people and he loves the adrenaline rush that comes with the line of work.
Parfait Checki, formerly a citizen of Benin, has been living in America for nine years. He came to the United States as a tennis instructor and teaches at the Whitehaven Tennis Center near Memphis.
“My wife is from here, I have children here,” he said. “I love the country.”
Carlina Shields Gomez also applied for citizenship for her family. She married a Memphis native six years ago and moved from Costa Rica four years ago.
“We have a one-year-old daughter and I thought, ‘It is time,’” she said. “I want to be able to have the privilege of being a citizen of the United States and learn the process and learn about the country and culture and pass that on to my daughter.”
Keenum congratulated the new citizens for the effort they have already put into citizenship.
“I recognize I am a citizen by the happy accident of my birthplace,” he said. “You on the other hand have chosen to become American citizens and for many – if not all – that was a decision that took courage, demanded sacrifice and required hard work. When you take the oath, you are as fully American as anyone.”