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New US Citizens Take Pledge of Allegiance on Independence Day - 2002-07-05

Hundreds of new Americans around the country marked July 4 by taking the oath of U.S. citizenship. In one swearing-in ceremony in Freedom Park, near Washington, 47 people from nearly as many countries pledged their allegiance to the United States.

In pre-ceremony instructions, Immigration and Naturalization Service official Robert Schofield reminded the swearing-in participants to register with the Board of Elections to vote. "They'll send you back a voter's ID card," he said. "Very good basic evidence that you are a U.S. citizen, that you can carry with you everywhere."

Following a presentation of the American flag by the Armed Forces Color Guard, Maureen McMurphy sang the U.S. national anthem.

Besides reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, the participants, like Richard Koyomji from Lebanon, also swore an oath of allegiance to the United States, in which he swears that he "will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

Gujari Khnna, 40, from Afghanistan, explained that she chose to become an American citizen because her country has been destroyed by war. She thinks the U.S. military presence there is good. She said, "Maybe my country, Afghanistan, also go freedom, go free and for children [to] go [to] school and college."

War in her homeland was also the reason Saharla Jama, from Somalia, chose to become an American. "We didn't have nowhere to go back, so we decided to stay here, since Somalia had the civil war and there's no safety and no life there, so we decided to stick to here," she explained.

For Ge Zhang and Wei Huang, a married couple from China, one of the main benefits of American citizenship for themselves and their two children is being entitled to a U.S. passport. "I like [to] travel around the world. Without an American passport, I will have to apply for a visa, but with this passport, we could go a lot of place without a visa, very easily," she said.

Making the decision to renounce citizenship from their home countries was not always easy, though. Jenny Rodriguez, 47, from Bolivia admitted that, for her, it was a hard choice to make. "Yes, it was, it was because that's the place where I [was] born, and I love also," she said. "You know, I still love it today."

At the same time, Elvis Castro, from Cuba, stressed he was proud to be an American and had some big plans for his future. "Follow the American Dream, become rich and help everybody else," he said.

President Bush marked U.S. Independence Day by granting 15,000 immigrants on active U.S. military duty immediate eligibility for American citizenship, saying they are demonstrating the ultimate act of patriotism.