Immigrants become citizens at ballpark

FOR 4,000, U.S. IS IN 1ST PLACE

September 14, 1993|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

Nina Seibert, an immigrant from Saudi Arabia, likes a country where a woman can fight fires, rescue accident victims and teach scuba, all of which she does in Montgomery County.

Aneston Arul, a member of Sri Lanka's Tamil minority, wants to travel on a passport that does not inevitably arouse the %o suspicions of immigration officials.

Jayesh Patel, a native of India, is eager for his parents back home in Gujarat state to follow him to the United States.

For reasons ranging from idealistic to practical, these three immigrants and more than 4,000 others became U.S. citizens at the Camden Yards ballpark yesterday in Maryland's largest naturalization ceremony ever.

"We're glad you're here," said Gov. William Donald Schaefer, welcoming the freshly minted citizens to "the greatest country in the world."

As if to mark a civic grand slam, the ballpark scoreboard flashed the message, "Congratulations, New Americans!"

A mention of the peace accord signed yesterday by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization drew hearty applause, injecting extra fizz into an already heady atmosphere.

The ceremony itself took only 35 minutes, but many prospective citizens first waited in long lines to complete processing and then baked in the box seats under a hot sun.

Swamped by the large crowd, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service abandoned plans to issue certificates of naturalization on the spot and told the new citizens that they would receive the certificates by mail, within two weeks, instead.

The huge ceremony reduced a backlog of naturalization cases. Applications for citizenship are running at a record pace, with nearly 10,000 in Maryland in the first half of 1993. Although most immigrants must spend five years as permanent U.S. residents to apply for citizenship, many in the crowd had waited longer.

"I finally have become a responsible citizen and would like to participate," said Mary Kinney, 40, of Bethesda, who moved to the United States from Canada as a fourth-grader. "I would like to have voted in the last election. And most people would say I'm crazy, but I would like to participate in a jury."

Todd M. Rubin, president of the District of Columbia chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said immigrants' reasons for seeking citizenship often include several practical ones:

* To sponsor relatives, especially parents and married children, who want to immigrate.

* To be eligible for government and law enforcement jobs off limits to noncitizens.

* To travel with greater security on a U.S. passport.

* To escape tax penalties. For example, spouses of deceased U.S. citizens cannot claim the marital deduction from federal inheritance taxes if they are not citizens themselves.

"And a lot of people just want to be Americans," Mr. Rubin said. "They consider it part of the dream."

Some immigrants simplify their names for American tongues when they become naturalized. Aneston Arul, the Sri Lankan from Rockville, was Anneston Arulnayakan until yesterday.

One 25-year-old native of Iran arrived at the ballpark as Fazlollah Sohrab and left it as Armon Tuscani -- Armon because it is simple to pronounce and Tuscani because it is his mother's maiden name. But the Mitchellville car salesman expects his old friends to keep calling him Fazi.

As the immigrants raised their right hands and renounced allegiance to "any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty," emotions ran high.

"It's a great feeling," said Luis Carretero, 36, a Bolivian-born accountant from Silver Spring. "I finally feel part of the system and the country, with as many rights as other Americans. Now we can pitch in to make a difference."

Marva Goldburne, a nursing assistant from Jamaica whose 19-year-old son has just joined the U.S. Army, said simply, "I felt it was time to become a citizen. I like this country. It's nothing but home."

REFUGEE AFFAIRS AGENCY REVAMPED

The state agency that handles refugee affairs has been renamed the Maryland Office for New Americans and also will serve immigrants.

Frank Bien, director of the seven-person office in the Department of Human Resources (DHR), said the agency will help "immigrants who have refugee-like needs such as language, vocational and citizenship training." The old Maryland Office of Refugee Affairs, which Mr. Bien also headed, was created in 1980.

"In the next few years money for refugees will be drying up," said DHR spokeswoman Helen Szablya. "We need to look at other sources to fund programs we would like to expand anyway."

Mr. Bien said the agency would work closely with state offices that deal with Hispanic and Asian-American affairs.

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