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Proud to be an American

17 become new citizens at naturalization ceremony

Several adults raise a hand while taking their oath of allegiance at a naturalization ceremony Thursday in U.S. District Court in Marquette. Taking the oath of allegiance is the final step in becoming a United States citizen. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — Love. Freedom. Education.

These are just a few of the reasons that led the Upper Peninsula’s newest United States citizens to come to this country.

On Thursday, a long journey to U.S. citizenship came to an end for 17 people from 15 countries at their naturalization ceremony, which was held at the U.S. District Court along West Washington Street in Marquette.

With friends, family members and government officials present, the new citizens took their oath of allegiance in Thursday morning’s ceremony, which was their final step in the citizenship process.

One of the new citizens, Dr. Latika Gupta, originally of India and now an assistant professor of economics at Michigan Technological University, said she loves the freedoms she has as a woman in the U.S.

A new citizen receives his citizenship papers. This ceremony was the final step in the long journey to citizenship for 17 individuals from 15 countries. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

“I can wear whatever I want, I can choose whatever profession I want, I can read whatever book I want, I can watch whatever movie I want,” she said. “And I love that freedom.”

Gupta, who is the first member of her family to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, said she arrived in this country exactly 12 years, one month and 14 days prior to the ceremony.

She had hoped to come to the U.S. years before that to obtain her undergraduate degree, but arrived in 2006 to obtain her Ph.D. in economics at Wayne State University in Detroit, then worked at Emory University in Atlanta for several years before becoming a professor at Michigan Tech University.

“It’s absolutely an amazing country and I really wouldn’t choose another country to live in,” she said.

Gupta, who applied for citizenship in April 2017 and had her interview in March, had been looking forward to her citizenship for a long time.

“I think I was always meant to be an American,” she said.

For Elena Helgren of Iron Mountain, who is originally from the Philippines, the journey to citizenship was inspired by love.

“I found my true love here … so that’s why I chose to move here to build a family,” Helgren said.

Petra Huentemeyer of Houghton, who hails from Germany, came to this country for her postdoctoral position in the physics department at the University of Utah in 2002. Then she took another postdoctoral position at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico.

Huentemeyer, now a professor of physics at MTU, said at Thursday’s ceremony that she was “very happy” to be a citizen.

Huentemeyer was one of many happy people Thursday, as court and government officials, along with families and friends, expressed their own joy in welcoming the new citizens.

“These days, we hear a lot about immigration, but we do not always hear about how important immigration is in this country,” Judge R. Allan Edgar, who presided over the ceremony, said. “We welcome you because we have constantly been enriched by immigrants which have provided us with new energy and ideas.”

Many distinguished speakers welcomed the new citizens, sharing stories of their own ancestors’ immigration, and speaking about the profound value of immigrants to this country.

“You really just continue the legacy of millions of people that have come to this country, contributed their God-given talents and abilities, not just to make your life better, but to make all of our lives better,” said Mick Dedvukaj, district director of the Department of Homeland Security.

State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, commended the new citizens and encouraged them to get involved.

“Stay the course, have hope, step up, take a leadership position, take those opportunities that you might think are not for you. They just might be just for you and you have a lot to teach us,” she said.

Other speakers included: the Rev. Thomas Skrenes, a retired bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Northern Great Lakes Synod; Marquette County Commissioner Johnny DePetro; Conor Rank, U.P. representative for Senator Gary C. Peters; Jay Gage, U.P. regional manager for Senator Debbie Stabenow; Marquette City Commissioner Sarah Reynolds; and Keitha Callanan, treasurer and chaplain of the Onagomigkway chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

To undergo the naturalization process, applicants must first qualify to apply for citizenship, then complete an application, attend an interview, as well as pass a test on English and civics. Citizenship applications may take six months to a year to be processed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Department of Homeland Security.

Once these steps are completed, the applicant’s final step is the naturalization ceremony, which is typically conducted twice a year in Marquette.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.