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New US Citizens Reflect on Immigration Process - 2001-11-15

In Chicago Wednesday, dozens of people from throughout the world became U.S. citizens. The ceremony at the city's main public library was also a tribute to the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The 241 people from 49 countries sang along to patriotic songs and waves small American flags, but what they really came for was to take the oath that would make them U.S. citizens. Judge Marvin Aspen administered that oath.

Judge Aspen said part of what makes the United States a great nation is the new ideas and enthusiasm brought in by immigrants. He said, "You sought things only this country can bring to you, your children and to future generations of your family - an opportunity to prosper, but more importantly, an opportunity to live in freedom."

Among those taking the oath of citizenship was Vahid Bagheri. The former Iranian has lived in the United States for 25 years. "When you look back and view the history of the United States," he said, "really everyone is from a diverse background and culture. That is what makes the society what it is, people from different regions of the world coming in."

Speakers at the ceremony called these challenging times for the United States, as it fights terrorists while trying to protect citizens from future attacks. But they also said that people in previous generations had successfully faced challenges of their own as well.

Mr. Bagheri says the last couple of months have made him feel lucky to be living in Chicago. "It just gives it a special meaning," he said. "Things you normally take for granted, you value them more."

Mr. Bagheri is a Muslim and says he was disappointed to read about harassment and violence against some Arab-Americans after the September 11 terrorist attacks, but he points out that only a small number of Americans were responsible for those incidents.

Manjeet Chawla immigrated to the United States from India. He also says the terrorist attacks have not made him feel less sure about living here. "So we have a lot of benefit of being here," he said. "We want to be here in good times and bad times. That was a strong conviction for us. We made the right decision to be here."

Speakers pointed out that many of those who died in the September 11 attacks had been born outside the United States. They said the new citizens could honor their memories by fully participating in rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship.