Service members and a few of their spouses took oaths to become U.S. citizens aboard the USS Midway Museum as part of the Citizenship and Immigration Service’s celebration of Independence Day.
The Tuesday ceremony was one of about 175 events the agency planned across the country to naturalize more than 14,000 people around the Fourth of July.
“This day will have new meaning for you,” Rear Adm. Yancy Lindsey, commander of the Navy Region Southwest, told the new citizens in San Diego. “It will be your Independence Day, your day to celebrate, along with your fellow citizens, this place we call home.”
The 49 new citizens were born in 19 different countries. The largest group, at 13, was from Mexico. Seven were from the Philippines, and five were from Jamaica.
The rest were from Afghanistan, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Micronesia, Nigeria, Poland, South Korea, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay.
Melissa Maxim, field office director of the immigration service in San Diego, congratulated the group on reaching the “final step in the immigration journey.”
“Immigrants in the U.S. have always had a profound impact on our nation and the world,” Maxim said before the citizenship oath. “They strengthen the fabric of our nation.”
San Diego’s newest Americans serve in the Navy, Marines, Army and Coast Guard.
Gunnery Sgt. Rafael Dominguez Garcia came to the U.S. from Mexico about 30 years ago when he was 5 years old.
He’s been in the Marines for 16 years, he said. Because of deployments overseas, naturalizing took a long time. “I’ve been defending this country for some time, and it’s great to finally be a citizen,” Dominguez Garcia said. “For me and my family, it’s a dream come true.”
On Monday, he was promoted to gunnery sergeant, further adding to his reasons to celebrate this week.
Lance Cpl. Nadim Yousify, originally from Afghanistan, came to the U.S. on a special immigrant visa after working for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as a translator for about five years.
He’s been in the Marines about 11 months. It was the first job he wanted to do when he arrived in the U.S., he said.
He hopes having U.S. citizenship will allow him to get the kind of security clearances he would need to work in intelligence.
He didn’t bring family with him when he came to the U.S., he said, but many from his unit were there to support him on Tuesday.
He considers them family, he said. They took up close to two rows of seating.
When he walked across the stage to get his certificate, he paused to face them, beating his chest and raising his arms in the air three times.
“Highlanders!” his American family cheered each time.
Seaman Graisy Landa Ramirez, who serves in the Navy on the destroyer Paul Hamilton, came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic in 2003.
Her shipmates were one of the loudest cheering sections at the event.
“It’s nice,” Landa Ramirez said. “My family is not out here, but my shipmates are my family, so it’s nice that they’re here to support me.”
She said becoming a U.S. citizen made her feel both relieved and happy.
“My parents were harping me about it,” Landa Ramirez said. “There are certain restrictions for residents that, now as a citizen, I don’t have to worry about.”
Virginia Lopez Coleman came to the U.S. more than 25 years ago from Mexico. Her husband is an Army veteran, and her daughter serves in the Army in Hawaii.
Both were there to cheer her on as she took her oath.
She said being part of the Midway event made her feel special.
“I feel so proud to do it because my husband and my daughter serve this country, and it’s an honor to me to be a citizen of this country,” Lopez Coleman said.
Morrissey writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune