Tuesday was Citizenship Day in the United States. It marks the day when the United States Constitution was signed September 17, 1787, creating the first U.S. citizens. Throughout the country Tuesday, hundreds of people became new U.S. citizens.
At the main public library in downtown Chicago, 175 people gathered in the glass-ceiling atrium to take the Oath of Citizenship, administered by federal judge Charles Kocoras, who is the son of Greek immigrants. "I remember their excitement at becoming naturalized citizens and how proud they were," he says. "I remember how they looked upon America as the land of opportunity, and how it might provide a better life for them and for their children."
The ceremony's keynote speech was delivered by U.S. prosecutor for the Chicago area Patrick Fitzgerald. His ancestors came to the United States from Ireland. Mr. Fitzgerald reminded the new citizens that with the oath of citizenship comes freedoms, rights and responsibilities. "Many people gave their lives for this country through the centuries," says Mr. Fitzgerald. "People, as we speak today, put their lives at risk overseas, fighting for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and all the freedoms that you all now have."
Among the 175 new citizens in Chicago was Sima Patel, a student who emigrated from India seven years ago. "I wanted to be an American. As an American I can do something for my country now and, as a student, I want to do something good in my life, make my career better."
It has been a busy year for U.S. Immigration officials. They have processed about 65 percent more citizenship applications this past year than during 2001. Chicago's Immigration and Naturalization Service Director Brian Perryman says the September 11 terrorist attacks seem to have had something to do with that. "I think, too that immigrants who have been here a long time may, after September 11, have thought about how important it was to be citizens of the United States and took the plunge, so to speak."
Among the longtime residents of this country becoming citizens was Mohammed Hussein. He has lived in the Chicago area for 22 years. "I am so happy, so glad I got this thing over with. It is better for me and for my family."
The new citizens in this ceremony come from 40 countries. Most are from Mexico, Poland, India and the Philippines.