It was right around 9:30 a.m. Thursday that 44 immigrants from around the D.C. region heard acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli say the words many of them have waited years, if not decades, to hear: “Congratulations, you are America’s newest citizens.”
At that moment, there was thunderous applause, lots of smiles, and even some tears on the faces of those who gathered inside the rotunda of the National Archives for this naturalization ceremony.
With the Declaration of Independence encased in glass behind him, Vice President Mike Pence gave the keynote address at the ceremony.
“There are no dreams too big in the land of the free and the home of the brave,” Pence said. “And you are now citizens of that great nation. So live your dreams.”
It’s what Mirella Saldana, of Falls Church, Virginia, vowed to do. Saldana has lived in the U.S. for 18 years after coming here from Peru.
“Left everything behind and I have recited the Pledge of Allegiance as an elementary school student, now a school counselor, and being able to do it here after all these years — feeling American, feeling part of the U.S., but now actually certifying that I am with it,” she said.
Saldana added that she plans to use her citizenship to vote and advocate for other immigrant families like her own. “Now I have the U.S. citizenship to do advocacy in a different way,” she said.
Martin Davila, of Woodbridge, had a hard time containing his emotions as he gathered with his family after receiving the documentation that proves his citizenship.
“Very happy, very, very happy,” he said, breaking out into a big smile. “You have no idea!”
“It was a moment that — I wanted to cry. It was so, so intense,” he added.
Though he’s originally from Mexico, he traces his roots back to a Native American tribe in Arizona, and he admits he wanted to be able to say he was part of the United States as well.
“It’s important to be an American because it’s the land of the freedom,” said Davila. “It’s beautiful. It’s nice to be an American. Not everybody has the same privilege that we have in America. A lot of people wish to be the way we are but, unfortunately, they don’t have the privilege that we have. It is beautiful to be an American.”
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