23 children join parents as U.S. citizens

By ANDY MATARRESE, MEDILL NEWS SERVICE, Written for UPI  |  April 25, 2012 at 11:26 AM
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WASHINGTON, April 25 (UPI) -- Twenty-three children representing 16 countries -- from Afghanistan to Zambia -- squirmed, whispered and slouched their way through their official U.S. citizenship ceremony at President Lincoln's Cottage on the outskirts of Washington.

"I'm very happy and proud," said Dula Woldesenbet, beaming. He emigrated from Ethiopia in 2000, and his two children participated in the ceremony.

"This is a democratic, free country so I'm happy."

Gina Ramirez, a 10-year-old whose parents emigrated from Peru eight years ago, said she was thankful for the "once-in-a-lifetime experience" and for her parents' decision to live in the United States.

In America, she said, "you get opportunities. You can be like everybody else. This is your world, this is your land."

Because their parents had become U.S. citizens, the children already were treated as citizens, said Sarah Taylor, the Washington district director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Other immigration officials noted, however, that having the citizenship certificate provides official documentation.

"I think a lot of people who naturalize want their children to have a certificate like theirs and so they apply for the certificate of citizenship," Taylor said. "This is just a special way to celebrate their citizenship, and by putting it in a venue that has historic significance, that's especially nice for the children."

Tuesday's ceremony was designed to mirror those for adult immigrants. The setting, President Lincoln's Cottage at the Soldier's Home, was the 16th president's vacation home during the Civil War. It was there, he drafted the Emancipation Proclamation.

"Lincoln talks a lot about the role of a citizen and the importance of immigrants to the country as part of our history and part of who we are and part of what makes this country great," said Erin Mast, director of President Lincoln's Cottage.

"To see all these young faces who are just becoming American citizens and to know what it might mean to them and their families to have that freedom and the fact they will be part of that diverse perspective on what freedom means is just really exciting."

The Disabled American Veterans Honor Guard presented the colors to start the ceremony. Taylor led the children in taking the Oath of Allegiance. Then the honor guard led the children in the Pledge of Allegiance. Finally, guests watched a video in which U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated the children and welcomed them as new citizens.

The children made Lincoln-style top hats out of Styrofoam plates and construction paper and received their own copies of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Soldier's Home, now known as the Armed Forces Retirement Home, was built around the cottage. Mast said the Soldier's Home was built after the Mexican-American War to house old or disabled soldiers, many of whom were immigrants.

"It was really meaningful," said Mast, who got a little choked up speaking at the ceremony.

Faryal and Ozkan Buyuk, originally from Turkey, were proud and happy for their daughter, Selin. They were also glad to complete all of her citizenship paperwork.

"I'm so happy," Selin, 7, said. "I liked how I went to Abe's house and discovered everything."

The Buyuks made sure to stick around for the tour of the cottage afterward.

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