February 11, 2012
Ceremony mints citizens
47 people from 26 countries become Americans
Diego Arenas said he has always felt like an American, even if he did not have a certificate of citizenship to prove it.
Arenas went to high school in Florida before coming to Cornell University for college. He has lived in America most of his life, moving from Colombia when he was 7 years old.
“I’ve always felt American for my entire life,” said Arenas, 20. “But now it’s official.”
On Friday, Arenas — along with 46 others — became a United States citizen during a naturalization ceremony at the Cortland County Courthouse. The 47 new citizens hailed from 26 countries, from as close as Canada to as far as the Middle East.
The new citizens extolled the virtues of democracy, free speech and religious freedom. Many talked about wanting to vote.
“We understand that as citizens it really does matter to vote,” said Dirk Swart, who works at Cornell University and moved here from South Africa 10 years ago for work.
The new citizens applied for citizenship for a variety of reasons.
Some, like Ithaca residents Irene Tay and Tseten Dolker Oshoe, said free speech and a more open government were important to them. Tay and Dolker Oshoe come from Singapore and Tibet, respectively.
“You feel that you belong,” Tay said of becoming a new citizen.
Supreme Court Justice Philip Rumsey presided over the annual ceremony and several local officials spoke at the event.
Truxton Town Councilman Ghassan “Gus” Wehbe spoke at the event and encouraged the new citizens to be active in the political process. Wehbe emigrated from Lebanon and became a citizen in 1996.
“Your real journey has only just begun,” Wehbe said to the new citizens.
The new citizens received American flag pins, as well as voter registration cards with their new certificates of citizenship.
Legislature Chairman Mike Park (R-Homer) and Doug Finch, chief of staff for state Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua), also spoke during the event.
U.S. citizenship is automatically granted to people born in this country or born to people who are U.S. citizens or nationals in other countries.
Otherwise, a person must be a permanent resident for five years before qualifying to apply for citizenship.
Applicants must be at least 18 years old, of good moral character and swear an oath of allegiance to the United States. They are tested on their knowledge of U.S. government and must be able to read, write and speak English, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Dr. Taseer Cheema was one of the new citizens. Cheema works at Cortland Regional Medical Center and said he was proud to be an American citizen.
“To be a part of the electoral system and voice my own opinion is something I’m really excited about,” said Cheema, who came to America from Pakistan. “The ceremony was amazing. It was so beautiful. I really enjoyed it.”
Swart and his wife, Bronwyn Butcher, both work at Cornell and have 4-year-old daughter, Jessica, who was born an America citizen.
“She’s kept asking us, ‘When are you going to be citizens like me,’” Swart said.
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe