Officially becoming part of the U.S.A.

New citizens celebrate their adopted nation during a ceremony at Carroll House

June 24, 2007|By Sharahn D. Boykin | Sharahn D. Boykin,Sun Reporter

A small group stood on the lawn outside the Charles Carroll House, renouncing their countries and proclaiming their desire to live in freedom.

The scene might have taken place in 1776, when Carroll signed the Declaration of Independence. But these 35 people hailed from as far away as the Phillippines, Sudan and Britain, and on Friday in Annapolis they took their oath to become American citizens.

"I'm living here," said Ljiljana Ivezic, a native of Serbia who moved to the United States 16 years ago when her husband enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania. "This is my home. We feel really free. We never felt like strangers."

From their chairs at the simple ceremony, the new citizens could look out over Spa Creek and see buoys, boats and other watercraft. While the nearby William Paca House hosts the same event once a year, this was a first at Carroll House.

Fifty to 60 immigrants become American citizens each day through the Baltimore district office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a number that has remained steady over the years. Nationwide, 6 million to 8 million people apply or petition for citizenship each year, and 2,100 are naturalized daily, according to officials. "The emphasis this year is to reconnect not only with citizen applicants, but all citizens, so that they can understand the principles of the liberty and democracy we still hold today," said Chris Rhatigan, a spokeswoman for the agency. "After they take the oath and allegiance, they take full advantage of their rights and responsibilities."

Some of the citizen candidates at the naturalization ceremony have lived in the country for decades, even though they are required to have lived in the country for only five years, or three if married to an American citizen. Eduardo Montalvan, 33, emigrated from Nicaragua in 1989 to join his mother, who arrived in the U.S. when he was 2. Since then, Montalvan has married, fathered two daughters and learned to repair furniture. He has been back to his native country only once. His roots are here now.

"I have a family now, and I don't think I will ever go back," he said as he looked over at his 7-year-old daughter, Ashley.

Ritesh Ahuja, 34, came to the U.S. from India 13 years ago to attend Stanford University. Today, he designs computer network equipment. After living here for so long, he wanted to make America his official home, he said.

"The biggest thing is, you become part of the country formally. ... You become part of the system," he said.

Some immigrants felt frustration going through the naturalization process. Ivezic said the amount of time it takes to become a citizen has increased since Sept. 11, 2001. She had to wait 18 months after her interview before being naturalized. She knows people who have waited years.

"It's frustrating because we don't know who to contact and the confusion of everything going through Homeland Security," she said.

Ahuja also hit a snag in the process. He completed the interview portion of the application process but was later told he had another file somewhere, so he would have to wait an additional three to six months to become naturalized, he said. To this day, he does not know what was in that other file.

But not all immigrants experience such difficulty. Ahuja and his wife filed their applications at the same time, and she was naturalized a year ago, he said.

The person for whom Carroll House is named was no stranger to struggle, said the keynote speaker Dr. Gregory Stiverson, a board member of the house and former president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation.

Stiverson recounted how the first Charles Carroll emigrated from Ireland in pursuit of freedom and his dreams. His grandson, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, became the "best educated man in America" and "a champion of the people's rights," Stiverson said.

He was the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence at a time when Catholics were discriminated against and persecuted, Stiverson said.

They were probably teased because of their accents and "paid dearly for their beliefs," he said.

"I hope you remember the Carrolls," Stiverson said. "They remained true to themselves."

sharahn.boykin@baltsun.com

New citizens

The 35 people who became U.S. citizens Friday at the Charles Carroll House had to meet the following requirements, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services:

be 18 years old;

be a permanent resident for at least three years;

have good moral character;

have knowledge of U.S. history and government;

have basic English reading and writing skills.

For more information on how to become a U.S. citizen, visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site at www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis.

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