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‘Proud to be an American’

39 become U.S. citizens Thursday

Diane Stevenson, originally hailing from Canada, raises her hand as she takes her oath of allegiance Thursday, marking the final step in her journey to citizenship. The naturalization ceremony conducted by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan at Northern Michigan University marked the final step in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen for Stevenson and 38 others. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — Thursday marked the end of a long journey and the beginning of a new era for 39 people hailing from 17 countries, as they officially became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony.

The ceremony, held at Northern Michigan University’s Northern Center by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, drew family members, friends, government officials and many other supporters to watch the 39 new citizens take their oath of allegiance, which represented their final step in becoming a U.S. citizen.

“For those of you who will become naturalized citizens today, I know that this was the end of a long and arduous journey for you,” Judge R. Allen Edgar told attendees. “First, you have come here from your native country, then you have completed all the requirements for citizenship and you are to be congratulated. In becoming a part of the United States, you are joining a unique experiment in the history of the world. Because in this country, we are not united by any particular ethnic or ancestral experience. Instead, we were made up of people like you who have many different national backgrounds.”

The new citizens hailed from diverse locales including Burma, Cameroon, Finland, Germany, Jamaica, Vietnam, Japan, Ireland, Colombia, China and Canada.

Among the new citizens were Raghu Rao, hailing from Canada, and Patricia Gill from Ireland. The couple, now residing in Newberry, arrived in the U.S. in the year 2000 and have had three children together in the U.S. since.

Shane Middleton, a Lake Linden resident who hails from Australia, smiles while holding an American flag after taking his naturalization oath at a ceremony held Thursday. Middleton, who was accompanied by his wife and children at the ceremony, was honored to become a U.S. citizen, he said. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

“It’s a momentous occasion for us,” Gill said. “It’s the end of a long journey and we’re happy to be here today.”

Shane Middleton, a Lake Linden resident who hails from Australia, said he felt it was “an honor” to become a U.S. citizen.

“I’m glad I did it,” Middleton said. “I have three kids that were born here. And my wife — we’ve been married for 30 years — so it’s a great occasion for us as a family.”

The citizenship of these 39 individuals is significant not only for the new citizens and their families but also for the entire country, Edgar told attendees of the ceremony.

“Because immigrants come from different backgrounds, we have been enriched by their diverse perspectives,” Edgar said. “Immigration, which you are now a part of, has constantly provided this country with new energy and ideas.”

Tessy Latzoo-Balicki, an Iron Mountain resident who became a U.S. citizen during Thursday’s naturalization ceremony, fills out a voter registration form after the ceremony. Latzoo-Balicki, who was born in Ghana and was previously a Canadian citizen, is “proud to be an American,” she said. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

Many other people spoke during the ceremony to welcome the new citizens, including Northern Michigan University President Fritz Erickson; Karen Anderson from the office of U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Michigan; Katelyn Rader, U.P. regional manager for U.S. Sen. Gary Peters; Jay Gage, U.P. regional manager for U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Marquette County Commissioner Johnny DePetro.

The new citizens were encouraged by speakers to participate in voting and other aspects of the U.S. governmental system and to help new citizens get registered to vote, staff from the Marquette County Clerk’s office were on-site with voter registration forms.

Tessy Latzoo-Balicki of Iron Mountain — who was born in Ghana and was a Canadian citizen before becoming an American citizen on Thursday — could be found registering to vote immediately following the ceremony.

“When I was a little kid living in Africa, we watched the United States on TV and always thought about what it would be like to live in the United States,” Latzoo-Balicki said. “So now that I’m a citizen, it means a lot to me … I’m proud to be an American.”

Diane Stevenson, originally hailing from Canada, said she is glad to have the long journey to citizenship complete and looks forward to exercising her rights as a citizen.

“It’s a great honor to be here,” Stevenson said. “I’m just glad that I’ll have the right to vote now. I’m proud.”

It was a long road for these 39 new citizens, as a person needs to be qualified to apply for citizenship before becoming naturalized.

Then, the person must complete the application, attend an interview, and pass an English and a civics test before taking an oath of allegiance and becoming a citizen.

Citizenship applications are processed through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services with the Department of Homeland Security. This process can take six months to a year to complete, or more under certain circumstances.

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

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