“I do feel the U.S. is my home,” said Shirley Ko,a 33-year-old Washington resident and new citizen. “I want to participate more in terms of voting and making my voice heard.”
The 33 men and women became citizens in the room that displays the original Bill of Rights,Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
Chief Judge Thomas Hogan,of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia,administered the Oath of Allegiance after a brass quartet played songs,including “Yankee Doodle,” in the dimly lit rotunda.
“This is such a happy occasion,important occasion and also a solemn occasion,” Hogan said before administering the oath. “I want to congratulate every one of you as United States citizens.”
Ko,who speaks English like she's lived in the U.S. her entire life,works to develop programs to fight HIV and AIDS. She came to the U.S. from Sao Paolo,Brazil,with her parents,brother and sister in 1982.
“I moved here with my family when I was 9 years old,” Ko said,”I think for better economic opportunity.”
Her parents met in Brazil after emigrating from Taiwan in the 1960s.
She said she delayed applying for citizenship until March because she wanted to hold onto her heritage.
“It was one of the last pieces of evidence that I lived in Brazil,” Ko said. “I feel like I will always be a Brazilian – for the rest of my life.”
She decided to apply for citizenship after realizing that she agreed with American laws and ideals.
“I think being an American citizen,in a way,you feel like you're a more full-fledged member of American society,” Ko said.
Viktor Pregel,a 30-year-old commercial real estate lawyer from Canada,immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1993 when his father took an engineering job in Michigan. He got permanent residency in 1995.
Permanent residents must live in the U.S. for five years before they can apply for citizenship. Pregel said it wasn't until after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11,2001,and meeting his wife,Katherine,that he felt the need to apply for citizenship.
He was working three blocks from the World Trade Center that day.
“I felt I belonged here,going through that with everybody else at the time,” said Pregel,now of Washington. “After being in New York at that time I became very patriotic. I realized I would be staying in New York for the rest of my life,or close to it.”
He applied for citizenship in 2002 but doesn't know why it took so long for his application to be processed.
More than 600,000 people became citizens in 2005.
For former Mexican citizen Luis Gonzalez,35,the move to become a citizen started when his parents applied for citizenship in the 1970s. They received permanent residence status in 1992 and emigrated from Mexico City.
His father and younger brother came to Washington in pursuit of a better economic life. They prepared a home for his mother and younger sister,who followed a few months later.
Gonzalez,who works as a graphic designer and owns a small printing shop in Washington,was at an adult,age 21,when his parents immigrated to the U.S. and wasn't able to join them.
He received permanent residency status in 2000,allowing him to immigrate,and applied for citizenship immediately after living in the U.S. for five years.
“You get it if you go after it in this country,” he said. “I'm really proud. I've been looking for this since I came here. I'm trying to get a better life.”
Could you pass the test to become an American?
The naturalization exam is given to all permanent residents who apply for citizenship. Applicants must correctly answer six of 10 questions selected from a list of about 100.
A new test that asks questions focusing on concepts of democracy and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship will be given to volunteers in 10 cities next year and across the U.S. in 2008.
Sample questions for the test are available on the Web and include questions like these:
Question: Name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence.
Among the correct answers: People are born with natural rights. The power of government comes from the people. The people can change their government if it hurts their natural rights. All people are created equal.
Question: What is the supreme law of the land?
Answer: The Constitution
Question: What does the Constitution do?
Among the correct answers: It sets up the government. It protects basic rights of Americans.