Foreign-born servicemembers take oath of allegiance during flight-deck ceremony

The United States continues to be the world’s beacon of hope and that shining light on the hill. According to the United Nations, America is the most desirable country for immigrants with more than 51 million foreign-born residents living in the states.

Why is America so popular? The reasons are equally complex as they are simple – freedom and opportunity.

As a lead up to this year’s July 4th celebration, 20 sailors and Marines from 10 different countries, became U.S. citizens during an emotional naturalization ceremony on Midway’s flight deck.

“I was a little nervous, but really excited,” said Seaman Jerusha Israel, a 21-year-old sailor from the Philippines. “I’ve been here 11 years, so it’s nice to finally become an U.S. citizen. I now feel like a true American.”

For the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the ceremony on Midway was dedicated to the country’s armed forces as a chance to honor all military members who now serve in uniform and those who have served in the past, especially those who arrived from other countries.

“The ceremony was the final step in their immigration journey,” said Madeline Kristoff, the San Diego field office director for Citizenship and Immigration Services. “They are a very diverse group with unique and inspiring stories about the path they have taken. But they all have one thing in common, they chose America as their home.”

“It’s been a journey,” said Navy Seaman Apprentice Tharindu Nallapuruma, a native of Sri Lanka who first came to the United States 14 years ago. “I’m very happy and very grateful to finally be a citizen.”

The oath of allegiance was administered by the Honorable Dana Sabraw, the chief U.S. district judge from the Southern District of California, himself the son of immigrant parents. His mother is from Japan and his father immigrated from Canada.

“It feels good to be an American,” said Felix Huicochea, a 21-year-old private first class in the Marine Corps who arrived in the United States from Mexico in 2014. “I can now reenlist and continue to serve this beautiful country. I love the freedom here, the security it provides, and education you cannot see anywhere else.”

The process to become a citizen can take several years, requiring determination and often the assistance of many in navigating complex naturalization procedures.

“These servicemembers didn’t get here on their own,” said Marine Corps Col. Daniel Whitley, one of the ceremony’s guest speakers. “There were a lot of people that helped them get to this point – family members, teachers, coaches, mentors and other individuals that helped shape their paths.”

“This is something my mom really wanted for me” said Diego Hernandez, a Navy 3rd class petty officer who immigrated from Mexico. “I’m really excited. In the states there are better opportunities and a better life.”

Pfc. Felix Huicochea and Seaman Jerusha Israel are excited to become U.S. citizens.

The United States, since its inception, has welcomed millions of immigrants to its shores, and they have always had a profound impact on the country and the world. Immigrants continue to strengthen the fabric of the nation with their valuable and distinctive contributions to American society.

“Today and every day, we’re reminded that we’re truly a nation of immigrants, all choosing to call this country our home,” said Congressman Scott Peters, another of the ceremony’s guest speakers who addressed the servicemembers following their oath of allegiance. “You embody the values that we celebrate as Americans – duty, devotion and patriotism. The present and the future wellbeing of America depends on all of you.”

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