WEST BRANCH — The 73 new U.S. citizens were as young as 20 and as old as 67 and came from 25 countries — including the Congo, Burundi, Jordan, the United Kingdom and Togo.
They completed their journeys to citizenship Friday at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum’s annual naturalization ceremony, many of them joined by young children clutching tiny American flags.
Bonfils Kahinda, a 24-year-old from Congo who lives in Cedar Rapids, filled out a form for a social security number after the ceremony while nearby volunteers helped others register to vote.
Earning citizenship after a decade in the U.S. — he moved here with his parents as a child — was “very exciting,” he said.
“Now I’m free,” said Kahinda, wearing a blue suit with a U.S. flag tucked in the front pocket. “Now I can do everything I want to achieve my goals.”
He and the other immigrants swore an oath of allegiance to the United States before hearing prepared statements from representatives for Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley and Reps. Dave Loebsack and Abby Finkenauer, along with a recording from President Donald Trump.
For Mongal Singh, 38, the ceremony and his new status means he can vote. Originally from Bhutan, he and his wife, Bishnu Gurang, both recently received that right — she was naturalized Sept. 11.
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“I wanted to get the rights that the citizens here get, the rights of an American,” Singh, who lives in Hiawatha, said. “Since we were not citizens, we could not vote. Now we can vote.”
“We want to live here proudly,” Gurang added.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Roberts, during the proceedings, congratulated the group and reminded them of their responsibilities as citizens — to pay taxes, vote “in every election” and serve on juries.
“Ours is a country of immigrants like you,” Roberts said. “Other than those who can claim to be Native American, each of the rest of us can trace our origin to people just like you — people who came to this country from another land. Some to seek freedom to worship god as they desired, some to be free of war or famine or to be free of poverty. Once here, they all shared a common goal, to live in freedom.”
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