USCIS Welcomes 50 New Citizens

May 12, 2017

By Andrea Lopez-Villafaña

The American flag was projected onto the walls of the Gompers Preparatory Academy auditorium and seated in the front rows were individuals anxious to receive what many consider is the beginning of the American Dream.

United States Customs and Immigration Services held a naturalization ceremony May 10 at the school to welcome 50 new U.S. citizens from 32 different countries.

Brad Flis, a teacher at Southwestern College, was one of those individuals sitting in the front row.

He said his naturalization process was a “long-lived journey” that lasted a total of 10 years to become a U.S. citizen.

Flis, 37, is originally from Toronto, Canada and has been living in the U.S. since 1998.

“I was following in the steps of my parents who moved here for work and I continued my education here and overtime it became a home for me,” Flis said. “Now having spent about half my life in the U.S. it feels like home.”

Candidates for naturalization took their oath of allegiance and were handed their certificate of naturalization at the end of the ceremony.

District Director of USCIS District 24 Alanna Ow spoke during the event and congratulated the candidates on becoming citizens.

“Your lives and the lives of your families will forever be changed in taking this important step to become a U.S. citizen, many doors and opportunities will open for you, which will allow your dreams to come true,” Ow said.
Meb Keflezighi, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist long distance runner, was awarded the “Outstanding American by Choice” award.

The Eritrean-born American shared his story with the audience and how his family’s hard work helped him arrive to the U.S.

Daniel Renaud, Associate Director of Field of Operations Directorate for USCIS, said less than 150 “Outstanding American by Choice” awards have been given out by the agency.

“When you have a vision and a goal for yourself, never give up on that dream,” Keflezighi said.

Former Superintendent of Public Education in San Diego Alan Bersin said new citizens teach other citizens what it means to be a part of the U.S. and shared that his grandmother was an immigrant who became a citizen in 1942.

“What this country represents and that you reaffirm and embody today is this commitment to equal justice under law,” Bersin said. “As you’ve already learned from your studying of American history we are not perfect, we are far from perfect, we are determined as a society to form a more perfect union which is a journey that’s continuous and never stops.”

For Leila Waddell, originally from Brazil, the process to becoming a citizen took her six months.

She met her husband online while playing World of Warcraft and after a year of being friends they met in person while she was on vacation in the U.S.
“It’s an important ceremony that solidifies everything we’ve been doing and what this process represents and what you’ll be able to do and become after this day,” Waddell said.

The Jersey Boys made a surprise appearance at the event and sang the national anthem. They joined the audience in welcoming the new citizens as members of the audience before going back on stage and singing “I Wonder Why” by Dion and The Belmonts.

Members of the school and Anthem Lights also performed during the event.

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