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New Americans Join the National Family

Tom Flanigan

In the overheated rhetoric of this election year, it's easy to lose sight of why America remains a beacon to the world. Several dozen of those international searchers joined the American family on Tuesday (8/23).

The naturalization ceremony took place in the the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Tallahassee. Michael Simpson, the assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida presented the petitioners to Magistrate Judge Charles Stampelos. Each of the prospective citizens then introduced themselves before the court. Then it was time for Judge Stempelos to administer the oath of allegiance to the United States. The oath concludes with the words:

"That I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, so help me God."

And although Judge Stampelos has been presiding over such ceremonies for years, he said it's an occasion that never fails to inspire.

"No, every one is very special," he remarked after the ceremony.

There was also a special speaker welcoming the new citizens, retiring Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho. Over the course of twenty-eight years, he has attended more than a hundred naturalization ceremonies.

"They have fought, they have studied, they have sacrificed to become Americans," he said, referring to the rather daunting requirements that must be met before an immigrant can be considered for citizenship. "And when they stand up and take that oath, you can see on their face how wonderful and magical this moment is and it will be one that I will miss, I will tell you."

And Sancho had a message of empowerment for this latest batch of Americans.

"This democracy, this representative government will last a long time, only if we keep it alive and make sure that it stays alive, can it operate. And the power is given to the people; not the politicians and the people need to know that!"

By the way, after the ceremony, 52 out of the 59 new citizens quickly registered to vote. As for the Capital City's freshly minted citizens, the words "excited" and "proud" seemed inadequate. Abdulganiyu Abdullahi, who was born in Nigeria, was using terms like "lovely", "peacefully" and "opportunity" to describe his adopted nation. For India's Suresh Eyunni, he predicted his greatest accomplishment as a citizen would be to teach his kids to also be good citizens.

"That's what I'm doing as a gift to the country so they can grow to be good citizens," he said. "They can do something for the country to give back (because) the country has given a lot to us."

At first, Erica Adrienne Lustria didn't want to live in America. Her parents brought her to the U.S. from the Philippines as a young girl and she missed her homeland desperately for years. But she said her attitude changed.

"And I really understood as I grew up what they meant and how great this place is," she smiled. "I'm very happy to call this my home now and I can actually say that comfortably without having to hesitate or think that I'm betraying anyone or myself. I actually feel that this is a home."

And on Tuesday, she stood beside her mom and dad as they all became citizens together.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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