Nearly 100 new U.S. citizens welcomed to America at Peoria ceremony
Almost 100 people became official citizens of the United States Friday morning at the Peoria Riverfront Museum.
The new citizens come from more than 30 different countries, including Mexico, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Sweden and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
U.S. District Court Judge James Shadid presided over the ceremony, congratulating the new citizens and sharing his own story. His grandparents immigrated to the United States from Lebanon in the early 1900’s.
“That is my story. That's the story of my uncles, and my aunts and my cousins, you have your own stories,” he told the crowd. “They may be different in how you came here. But they are similar in why you came here. And they are the same as to the hopes and the dreams that you have for yourselves.”
Magistrate Judge Jonathan Hawley led the crowd in the Oath of Allegiance, a promise to support the Constitution and the final step in their naturalization.
The process toward citizenship can be long and arduous. Maguy Bates is from Decatur. She immigrated to America from the Democratic Republic of the Congo with her parents 11 years ago. She was 9 at the time.
“I didn't really know what's going on. They're like making us go. I was like, I guess where we're going, you find out? And then we got here.” said Bates. “And this whole thing is like, trying to figure out the differences and how to just cope with everything in the States.”
Bates began the process to become a citizen four years ago.
“I made a lot of trips to St. Louis, which is like, two hours from where I live. And then I will go there. And then you know, they will ask me to go back and grab something else,” she said. “It was hard. But I'm glad that I made it here.”
Bates said traveling without any restrictions and voting are the most exciting parts of becoming a citizen.
Ricardo Galvan also came to the United States as a child. He came from Mexico with his parents in 1995 when he was 3 years old.
“I met my wife in 2015, we got married and went through the process of applying for my residency,” he said. “Now, it’s my citizenship and it’s been a great road.”
He agreed one of the most exciting parts of being a new citizen is voting in the next election.
“We kept looking forward to this day, and it’s here,” said Galvan. “It’s crazy to think the journey’s over.”
Not every new citizen at the ceremony started their time in the United States as a child. Mike Shen traveled to the United States from Taiwan in 2010 as a student, and quickly discovered he wanted to become a citizen.
Shen is a teacher and University of Illinois doctoral student, currently working on a degree in education. He wants his experience of becoming a citizen to serve as an inspiration to his future students.
“We have faced different kinds of challenges or struggles along the way of naturalization,” he said. “And I want to be a role model, so my students will know that no matter what, if you really have a goal, and you really want to make it, the whole world will start helping you.”
Shen credited his friends and colleagues with helping him through the naturalization process, which took about five years.
“I would like to share these kinds of inspirational stories,” he said. “To say, thank you for making us this place. And now we can call it home. I'll encourage others…if you're eligible, please feel free to, you know, try to naturalize, and then you can be a big part of this, you can be part of a big family.”
Shen also is excited to vote in the upcoming elections. He registered at a table set up near the ceremony as soon as it was finished.
“That's one of the most valuable things in a democratic city, we can vote,” he said. “One of the reasons, you say, ‘Why do I want to be a citizen?’ I want to let my voice be heard.”
This is the first time the museum has hosted a naturalization ceremony. The event is one of more than 235 similar ceremonies happening across the country this week as a part of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Constitution Week. The country welcomed more than 19,000 new citizens between Sept. 17 and Sept. 23.