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992 of Minnesota’s newest citizens take Oath of Allegiance

ST. PAUL -- They came from 92 different countries. Some came alone, some as families. Some came as visitors who decided to stay and some as refugees fleeing conflict. Their stories are as different as the languages, nationalities and clothing sty...

Lah Clay takes a selfie
Lah Clay takes a selfie of himself and Star Poe, both originally from Myanmar, as nearly 1,000 people, originally from 92 nations, were sworn in as US citizens during a naturalization ceremony at St. Paul RiverCentre, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

ST. PAUL - They came from 92 different countries.

Some came alone, some as families. Some came as visitors who decided to stay and some as refugees fleeing conflict.

Their stories are as different as the languages, nationalities and clothing styles seen Tuesday, Nov. 13, in the St. Paul RiverCentre ballroom, where 992 people raised their right hands, took the Oath of Allegiance and became American citizens.

“I want to be independent in all ways,” said Srividnya Seetharaman, 34, formerly of India. “I have a lot of dreams. I want to be a good citizen and make my kid to be proud of me.”

“This is a dream country,” said Augustino Kanneh, who was there with his wife and two children from Liberia. “It is worth it to be a citizen. It gives you more opportunities.”

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Applications for citizenship in the Twin Cities had been pretty steady over the past three years, with a slight decline this year, according to Genevieve V. Billia, media spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In 2016, there were 14,000 applications, with 12,000 approvals. 2017 inched up to 15,500 applications with 10,000 approvals. In 2018, there have been 13,000 applications with 8,400 approvals.

Many at Tuesday’s ceremony said they’d already been living in the U.S. for a while, such as Krystin Holody, formerly of Canada, who has been here 12 years.

Several, such as Dah Dah, 23, of Thailand and Hashim Khano, 37, of Iraq, said they decided to make their citizenship official because they wanted to have a voice in the next election.

“I want to have all the rights and responsibilities of a U.S. citizen, and to be able to vote,”  Khano said.

Abdi Osman, 44 of Ethiopia, took it a step further: “I want to run for office.”

Laurie Bangs, a volunteer with the League of Women Voters, passed out voter registrations to the participants as they entered the ballroom and looked for their seats, where a packet from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services awaited them along with a small American flag. She planned to collect the registrations at the end of the ceremony.

“You want to do it right here and now,” she said. “Otherwise, they take the paper home and it gets lost.”

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She said she has noticed an increased interest in the Somali community in getting involved in politics, something she’d seen happen with the Hmong community.

“It’s wonderful to see them wanting to get involved,” she said, musing that they were likely inspired by Ilhan Omar’s victory last week in Minneapolis, this year becoming one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.

Angelica Klebsch, a spokeswoman for the Citizen’s League, gave the group a pep talk.

“You’re coming at an intense time in the United States,” she said, calling the nation “politically charged.” She urged them to get involved.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Sanberg presided over the ceremony, encouraging the new citizens to enjoy the freedoms America offers, but to take the responsibilities seriously, too, such as voting, being tolerant with your neighbor and helping new immigrants get settled.

She then had them stand when she read their country of origin, a list of 92 countries, from Afghanistan to France to Jamaica.

They remained standing for the national anthem, many of them wiping away tears and placing their hands over their hearts.

“Your dreams make our country brighter,” Klebsch said. “Welcome!”

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