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24 People Granted Citizenship During Annapolis Ceremony

Date: Capital Gazette, July 5, Meredith Newman

For Ash Mikhia, U.S. citizenship has been a long time coming.

Since he immigrated from Iran at age 12, he had wanted to become an American. He joined the Navy in the '90s, but was discharged later because of his asthma. When he got a job at the World Bank in 1998, he hoped to begin the citizenship process — but the bank was only looking for international employees.

Now, after retiring from The World Bank, Mikhia is a U.S. citizen.

"This was the right time. And the most exciting thing is to do it in Annapolis, near the Naval Academy," the Rockville resident said. "This country gave me opportunity."

On Monday, he was one of 24 people who became citizens at the house of an Annapolis resident who signed the Declaration of Independence 240 years ago.

In addition to the naturalization ceremony at the William Paca House and Garden Monday, more than 7,000 people became U.S. citizens between June 30 to July 4.

The citizenship candidates in Annapolis originated from 18 countries: Brazil, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, France, Haiti, India, Iran, Jamaica, Latvia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Republic of Moldova, and Trinidad & Tobago.

The 30-minute ceremony included speeches from the Robert Clark, CEO and president of Historic Annapolis, and the director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. A William Paca impersonator read the Declaration of Independence, while a children's choir sang patriotic songs.

Minata Sangare of Gaithersburg immigrated from the West African country Côte d'Ivoire about 13 years ago in order to receive a better education. She started the process to become a citizen in the fall, after giving birth to a baby girl.

With her husband in the Army, Sangare said she wanted to become a citizen in order to keep her family together, especially when they traveled for his different assignments.

While Sangare would watch the news on TV, studying the different aspects of the government "brought everything together" for her. Learning about the U.S. government also made her grateful for the opportunities that are awarded to U.S. citizens.

"You can come from nothing and make it very serious in life," she said. "It speaks for itself. You can be born into nothing."

Vianca Leonardo of Greenbelt said she's always identified as an American. Leonardo immigrated from the Philippines when she was a child and has lived in the United States for the past 20 years.

"It's hard to say what it's now like to be an American since I've been here so long," Leonardo said. "But I feel more safe. I feel free."

She decided to became a citizen in February because she wanted to vote in the presidential election in November. Not voting for President Barack Obama in the 2008 election is one of her biggest regrets.

León Rodríguez, director of customs and immigration, conducted the Oath of Allegiance. Before the ceremony, the director said there is often a misconception about how long it takes to become a citizen. For many at the ceremony, it was a "long road" to get to this moment.

As a descendant of Cuban refugees, Rodríguez told the new citizens that the choice to immigrate and become Americans is often a "story of sufferance that we left behind," as well as one of hopes and dreams.

Rodríguez encouraged the group to become active in their community, whether it's voting in elections or volunteering at their children's schools."

"Everything you give as a new American will come back to you many times over," he said.


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