'The right to be free': York County welcomes its newest U.S. citizens
Deepak Das traveled some 7,700 miles before he found the freedom he sought for years.
Last week, the 28-year-old swore an oath before York County Judge Matthew Menges as the final step of his naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen. For years, he and his family had been stuck in limbo, not recognized in their ancestral homeland in present-day Bhutan and Nepal.
"The United States, they gave us an opportunity to become a citizen," Das said. "They gave us the right to be free."
Das and his uncle, 52-year-old Saha Gajmer, were among the 23 people from 11 countries who officially became U.S. citizens on Thursday.
Quoting from the U.S. Constitution, Menges congratulated the new citizens for becoming part of "We the People." The nation, he added, reflects the diversity of its citizenry.
"As a citizen, your image is now reflective on the face of America, and as such you now have an impact on what America becomes," he said.
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After an official from the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services presented the names of those becoming naturalized, the 23 repeated an oath of allegiance to the United States led by Menges. A rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" was performed by High Impact York director Tom Vietti.
Another new citizen, Thelma Perez, 77, is formerly of the Dominican Republic. She said she came to the U.S. for a better life and to be closer to her children.
"I'm very happy and very proud to become an American citizen," Perez said through her daughter, Elisa Adames.
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Among the countries the new citizens are from include India, Iran, Russia, the Philippines, Nepal, Spain and Haiti.
Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, thanked and welcomed the new citizens in a variety of languages, saying she was honored to be at the ceremony.
"Today, we celebrate each one of you as you begin the rest of your lives as American citizens," Hill-Evans said. "I know that this has not been an easy journey. It has demanded courage, it has demanded determination. Each of you here today has risen to that challenge, and you have demonstrated those qualities."
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York County Prothonotary Allison Blew said during the ceremony that today was the culmination of years of hard work toward American citizenship.
"You have demonstrated your commitment and love for America," Blew said. "I pray that America is forever worthy of that commitment and love."
Das, now a York City resident, said his family members were forced into refugee camps in Nepal. They fled strife at home thanks to international aid organizations, eventually finding their way to the United States.
"I feel happy and excited because we had no identity before that," Das said. "We are happy here that we got our citizenship; we are happy to be in the United States."
— Reach Matt Enright via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.