28 local residents become U.S. citizens

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - America is a melting pot, her citizens come from thousands of miles away, from cultures sweeping from Asia down to Latin America.

And her diversity may never be more clear than it is at a United States citizen naturalization ceremony, like the one held in downtown Hattiesburg's District Court Thursday morning, where a federal judge invited 28 residents to become citizens.

Three from Vietnam, six from Mexico, two from China, one from Yemen and one from El Salvador – just to name a few. They earned the right to vote, to run for office, petition to bring their family to the country, serve on a jury, and to come and go through this nation's borders as they please. They will never be deported home, because this is now officially home.

"I think this country's going to give me a chance to be successful in my life, that's why I wanted to have it," said Edilberto Ojeda who migrated from Mexico.

Carmen Danielle Pardo came from Venezuela to story in the U.S., not she is a public school teacher. "You know this country has given me a lot, and I think I am beginning now to give back, and I think I chose the perfect place to do so," said Pardo.

But the citizenship process is not easy.

"It takes a lot sacrifice and effort to become a naturalized citizen," said presiding Judge Michael Parker.

To be eligible, you must already be a permanent resident, file your tax history and submit your travel records. You must also pay a fee. The process involves a civics test that many American citizens themselves might not be able to pass: Who wrote the Federalist Papers? What are the nation's longest rivers?

And the majority of applicants must also take an English test that, for many, requires learning English.

But next year's election will bring new leadership, which will bring new laws. And with immigration legislation an issue that will likely be at the top of a new Congress' checklist, many needed to know that – no matter what law is passed - they will not have to leave what they consider to be their home.

Sisters Martha Perez and Yesenia have lived here their whole lives.

"We don't know if the laws are going to change or not so, we wanted to do it for the commitment," said Perez. "So if anything changes, at least we'll be citizens and we know we're here forever."

They're happening all over the country all the time - in just the state of Mississippi they're happening about once a month. But naturalization ceremonies are still the type of ceremony that, even the presiding judge says, never gets old.

"This is by far the most exciting thing a judge gets to do, typically court proceedings involve negative things," Parker said. "This is exciting, because we celebrate somebody accomplishing something really worthwhile."