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Newest US Citizens Weigh in on Immigration Policy

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Immigrants from 47 countries were sworn in as U.S. citizens in New York City on Thursday.  Their backgrounds and views are as diverse as their cultures and countries of origin. There is a wide range of opinions among America's newest citizens on U.S. immigration issues.

There was mixture of joy and solemnity in a downtown Manhattan auditorium on Thursday, as Judge Robert Allen Katzman led 125 new Americans and their families in America's Pledge of Allegiance.

The diversity in the room was mirrored by the varying attitudes toward immigrants, especially those who came to the United States illegally.  Sandra Miller from Trinidad and Tobago favors tighter border controls. "Because have more immigrants coming here illegally, rather than going through the system like I did.  I don't see it as being fair as you have all these illegal immigrants, and I had to work so hard to become an immigrant and now a citizen.  So I think it really needs to be revised and tightened," he said.

Yvonne Malcolm, originally from Jamaica, is opposed to a new immigration law in Arizona, a southwestern state which shares a border with Mexico.  It requires police to check the documents of anyone they stop or detain and suspect of being in the country illegally.

YM:  People shouldn't have to be walking around with papers. You shouldn't be discriminated against because of the color of our skin.

VOA: I don't think the color of your skin is what they're worried about do you?  YM: I think that's part of it.  Because you look like a Mexican, so maybe you come across the border?

Haddi Jatouwaggeh of Gambia says U.S. immigration authorities are not discriminatory, just overwhelmed.  "I know there is [are] heavy caseloads, so the cases just keep piling up," Jatouwaggeh said.

On the other hand, said Jatouwaggeh, she doesn't believe that citizenship should be granted to just anybody asking for it. "They should prove they want to be here.  They should be paying taxes.  You should be contributing to the American system.  I think it's okay to become a citizen.  People do work hard for it.  It's not like is given to you easily," she said.

Some pathways to citizenship are easier than others, says Maria Francesca Nespoli [fran CHESS skuh NAY' spoh lee], a new American from Italy.  She began her journey to citizenship with a foreign student visa after enrolling in Columbia University.

MFN: "… and slowly, patiently I finally earned my citizenship.  But for people who are not going to come here as graduate students, there should be some avenues that they could easily enough take it so they don't have to go illegal.  I don't think [anybody] wants to be an illegal [anywhere].  Since we know there are illegal immigrants, what do they do?  How do we make them legal with scaring them away?

VOA So you think immigrants bring a lot of strength to the country?  MFN: They certainly do.  In my office everyone comes from somewhere else.  This is the beauty of this country!

Indeed, while most people - policymakers and Americans alike - agree on the need for some immigration reform, there is also widespread agreement that U.S. citizenship is desirable.  In the first half of fiscal year 2010, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received nearly 334,000 applications for American citizenship, of which nearly 287,000 were approved.

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