NEW YORK — While the United States Congress continues to wrestle with an immigration reform bill, every day more people become American citizens. In fact, last year the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service swore in almost 700,000 new citizens, including 84,000 in New York State.
The immigration bill is the big issue on the minds of those seeking information about citizenship.
The City University of New York’s call-in phone banks for immigrants draw thousands of inquiries.
Volunteers from all walks of life, including brand- new citizens, man the lines, providing information to callers.
People from many different cultures help answer the concerned immigrant callers.
"I’m handling Spanish calls and Brazilian, too. People who speak Portuguese. And we are handling calls from all over New York, but even from Idaho," said a volunteer.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the volunteers that this program is really doing something positive.
“This country needs more immigrants. We’ve got to make sure that immigrants that are here get a chance to participate and build our country. And Washington’s crazy in terms of trying to keep the very people out that built our country and are our future, so you’re helping a lot," said Bloomberg.
The program has had its impact. One new citizen is Emma Dyer, who immigrated from Panama. Emma found out about the program on TV.
“Being a citizen, people know, your voice counts, you can make change. That piece of paper means to be a lot of things. Number 1, I can go to the airport - any airport - buy a ticket going to anywhere and coming back with no answer and no question because I have my passport," said Dyer.
The crowning achievement is THAT piece of paper. Almost every week in New York City new citizens are sworn in. This was a day of joy mixed with tears for 150 new citizens from 32 different countries, including Ghana, France and Venezuela.
“I’ve gone a long way to come [to] this, and I will cherish the American citizenship right now," said new U.S. citizen Shadrack Dugbatey.
“To be part of many nations like put together I think is what for me it means to be American, especially here in New York City," said Axelle Zemouli.
“And then you come to a ceremony where you are officially American. It feels so strange. It’s so emotional, too, because you have grown to love a country so much. Everybody loves the United States," said Helene Alonso.
These new citizens personify America….a nation of immigrants from all corners of the world. And for many, it began with one phone call.