RICHMOND, Va - On the steps of the Virginia Historical Society, 89 Virginians spent their first moments as American citizens smiling through the July 4 heat. The honorable Roger L. Gregory, Chief Judge of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, administered the oath of allegiance during the first naturalization ceremony held on the Historical Society grounds.
The ceremony was described as a marriage and graduation ceremony combined into one. The new citizens pledged their loyalty to the sovereignty of the U.S. and celebrated the end of what can be a lengthy process of obtaining citizenship for foreign nationals. Many of the 89 new citizens said they spent years working to gain citizen status.
"I've been looking forward to this day, and I thank God that I'm able to witness today with all my family, friends, and relatives here," Adekule Onalaja, who came to America from Nigeria 30 years ago, said. "This nation is a nation of immigrants. If you trace back, you will see that you come from somewhere."
Onalaja said he was most looking forward to voting, a right he has not had access to in his nearly three decades in the U.S.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, foreign nationals must meet a wide range of requirements before they are considered for citizenship.
- You have been a permanent resident for at least 5 years and meet all other eligibility requirements
- You have been a permanent resident for 3 years or more and meet all eligibility requirements to file as a spouse of a U.S. citizen
- You have qualifying service in the U.S. armed forces and meet all other eligibility requirements
- Your child may qualify for naturalization if you are a U.S. citizen, the child was born outside the U.S., the child is currently residing outside the U.S., and all other eligibility requirements are met
- More information on the naturalization process can be found here
These new citizens are gaining that status during a time of political division. Sumita Kuntal, who moved here 18 years ago and works as a sales rep at Carmax, said divisiveness does not damper the beginning of her own American history or her hopes for the nation.
"Sometimes you get busy with life, but after living in America for all these years, it is home. I am not going back to India. I go back to visit my family but it is time," Kuntal said. "As an American citizen, you don’t realize it until you visit other countries, so yes, definitely I think we should as the United States of America just focus on its name. It's united. It's States of America. We should stand united."
Following the oath of allegiance, Judge Gregory told the group of new Americans their new home welcomes them and charged the group with advancing the great American experiment to the best of their ability.
"Yes, from this day forward America will need your voice to join in it's unwavering cry for justice. From this day forward, my dear fellow citizens, this is your charge," the judge said.