Renewed strength, fresh inspiration: Area celebrates 87 new American citizens

Participants in naturalization ceremony describe long process, excitement, relief

Eighty-seven people from 43 countries were welcomed as newly naturalized American citizens Tuesday during a ceremony held at the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

The ceremony marked the final step in the process of becoming a citizen of the United States, an achievement that many petitioners have dreamed about and worked toward for years.

Omar Belli moved to America from Mexico 20 years ago. He currently lives in Dayton with his wife and their three children. “It’s been my dream (to become an American citizen) for a long time, since I lived in Mexico,” he said Tuesday.

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Belli’s wife, Deborah, said her husband’s naturalization has been a long time coming.

“I feel relieved,” she said. “It’s the end of a long journey, but it’s also just the beginning of new opportunities.”

Belli’s oldest daughter, 15-year-old Lyrah, said she’s happy for her father and his newly acquired citizenship. “I feel really excited,” she said. “It’s like, I feel the excitement, so I just can’t imagine how he feels about it.”

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Jason Esmond Mogaka Onsomu has lived in America for 16 years after moving from Kenya in 2006. “It’s been a long journey, so I’m excited that today, I’m a citizen of the United States,” he said.

During his time in the U.S., Onsomu said he has earned multiple post-secondary degrees. His decision to continue his schooling was twofold — to get an education and to retain his legal residency status with a student visa.

Onsomu said he is looking forward to carrying out his newly obtained right and responsibility as a U.S. citizen to vote in future elections. “My greatest excitement is to participate in the democracy of this country,” he said. “I’m very passionate about elections and about our leaders.”

Tuesday’s naturalization event coincided with National Voter Registration Day, and the new citizens were encouraged to register to vote following the ceremony. Dayton area League of Women Voters staffers were on-site to help.

“We’re so excited to be included in this process,” said Christine Corba, executive director for LWV, adding that the organization has assisted in the registration process at local naturalization ceremonies for the past two years. “To have the opportunity to welcome all of these wonderful people into America is just a great honor for us ... and for any citizen, voting is the way that you can have your voice heard.”

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The new citizens were led in the naturalization ceremony by Judge Walter Rice.

“Congratulations, my fellow Americans, on your having become citizens of the greatest nation in the world,” Rice said. “America has always looked to you and to the many citizens who have come before you for renewed strength and freshness of inspiration.”

Rice, too, stressed the importance of participating in the voting process. He also took a moment to address what he says is an opinion of a small minority of Americans when it comes to immigration.

“I want to emphasize as strongly as I can that if you read the newspapers, if you watch television, you would be understandably of the mind that we Americans don’t welcome new citizens,” he said. “Nothing can be further from the truth. The people who rant and rave against new American citizens are a small, but vocal, minority of our population.

“Ours is not a perfect country, ladies and gentleman, but working together, you and I and almost all of us, can make it the best, the most humane and the most just country in the history of the world,” he continued. “The spirit of our country has been refreshed by you becoming Americans, and the best of times for our country are yet ahead of us.”

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