Fifty men and women, young and old, walked into the U.S. District Courthouse and Federal Building as foreigners Friday.
They walked out as American citizens.
A naturalization ceremony was held at the courthouse Friday morning in downtown Gainesville, the culmination of a lengthy citizenship process for many.
“We are taking care of the most important part of this day,” said U.S. Magistrate Judge Clay Fuller. “That is making sure that you all are lawfully admitted as citizens of the United States.”
Fuller administered the oath, which includes a pledge to bear arms in support of the country when required by law, to perform noncombatant service when required, and to support and defend the laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Assistant U.S. attorney Darcy Coty said each person was examined individually, tested on their knowledge of history and government of the United States and on their ability to speak, read and write basic English.
The new citizens hailed from a wide array of nations including Bangladesh, Vietnam, Iran, South Korea, Haiti and many more.
“You all represent the latest wave in a sea of humanity that’s come over the shores of this nation over a century to make it great,” Fuller said. “We celebrate all the different backgrounds represented here today, and welcome you as your acquire the rights to take on the responsibilities of being citizens of the United States of America.”
New American citizen Jean An, 28, originally from South Korea, said she felt great at the end of the ceremony.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” An said. “It feels official now.”
Samath Chard, born in Thailand and from Cambodia, felt the same. He first came to the U.S. when he was 2, and is now a citizen at 33.
“I feel good,” he said. “Happy to be a citizen. The process wasn’t that bad, but it’s been a couple years.”
After the ceremony, Chard, An and the other citizens were given certificates and voter registration forms.
“We do about 30-50 ceremonies a year,” said Kelly Persons with League of Women Voters. “We hope to get the majority of people registered, and we get at least 50 percent of every ceremony.”
Persons said the ceremony, which was kept short because of winter weather concerns, was moving.
“I’ve sat through so many of these, but I can’t help but tear up through every one of them,” she said.
Fuller asked everyone to drive safely home, and left them with a parting message.
“I will simply say this,” he said. “Welcome to the family.”