Ermias Yoseph raised his right hand and took the oath of citizenship Friday along with 45 other men and women from 22 countries.
They came to America from all corners of the globe — from Yoseph’s native country of Ethiopia, to Iraq, Ukraine, China, India, Canada, Iran, Laos, Vietnam and elsewhere.
All renounced their citizenship with their home countries and swore allegiance to the United States of America in a naturalization ceremony held at the federal courthouse in downtown Gainesville.
"I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time," a jubilant Yoseph said afterward. "It’s a great day."
Yoseph, 30, dreamed of coming to America since high school and in 2002 won a visa through a lottery system to come to Georgia and work as a software engineer in Cobb County. Like his fellow immigrants, he was required to pass a test on American history and government and demonstrate proficiency in reading, writing and speaking English before being granted his new status as U.S. citizen.
"It’s a big privilege," Yoseph said. "I feel blessed."
Friday’s event, sponsored by the Northeastern Judicial Circuit Bar Association as part of its Law Day celebration, was only the second time that a naturalization ceremony was held in Gainesville, Senior U.S. District Judge William C. O’Kelley said. Most naturalization ceremonies in the Northern District of Georgia are held in Atlanta.
The judge noted that while usually one side or the other walks out of his courtroom unhappy after a court hearing, "a naturalization ceremony is an occurrence when the courtroom is full of a happiness."
Elizabeth Montero Fair of El Salvador waited six years to take the oath.
"I feel proud that I did it," she said. "To be part of such a great nation is wonderful."
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson briefly addressed the new citizens, recounting that his grandfather immigrated from Sweden during the potato famine of the early 20th century and became a U.S. citizen in May 1926.
"I understand how proud you are of being a part of this country and the great promise and opportunity it has," Isakson said. "We share a lasting bond and a treasure to be citizens of the United States of America."
The Daughters of the American Revolution presented each new citizen with a gift bag as they filed out of the courtroom with their relatives.
"We welcome you as new citizens to the United States and congratulate you on all your hard work," said Marcie Fletcher, regent of the Col. William Candler chapter of the DAR.
Two members of the Sons of the American Revolution, attired in full Revolutionary-era regalia, also welcomed the new citizens.
Marycruz Villela of Gwinnett County was three months old when she came to California from Mexico. Now 51, she finally sought out citizenship at the urging of her daughter.
"I am happy that I can feel free now," she said.
Said Fair, who came from El Salvador, "You’re no longer a foreigner, you’re a part of this nation. It gives you a sense of belonging to this country."