The West Aurora High School auditorium became a designated U.S. federal court room Friday, where 184 people officially became citizens in a naturalization ceremony.
“It has been a long, tough road,” Tahira Hashmi said.
Hashmi, of Naperville, emigrated from Pakistan 20 years ago to study law. Her legal expertise is in immigration and nationality law.
“I am able to share the emotion of having to leave your home as an immigrant and live in a foreign land,” she said. I came from a non-Caucasian country and for all of us that come from that part of the world, this is a very different world to adjust to, plus you strive to achieve something more, an education, career and good life.”
Hashmi said she believes leaving her homeland was the best choice for her, even though it came with challenges, such as the feelings of isolation.
“As a woman, the good life is the freedom to be who I want to be. The opportunities are limitless here if you work hard,” she said. “Back home, regardless of how hard you work, at the end of the day you are spinning your wheels because there just isn’t enough for everybody.”
The ceremony was held in partnership with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Family Focus, one of two agencies in Aurora that has accreditation to assist people to get their citizenship.
Jorge Rios, citizenship coordinator for Family Focus, said for many it has taken 20 to 30 years to get a permanent resident card and another five years to qualify for citizenship.
“For many their struggle to citizenship began when they crossed the desert and seas from their respective countries,” Rios said.
Judge William Hart, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, administered the Oath of Allegiance to the group, which was followed by cheers and applause.
A “Roll Call of Nationalities” revealed that the candidates for citizenship represented 43 countries, including Argentina, Canada, and People’s Republic of China, as well as India, Iraq, Israel, Kenya and Mexico.
Speakers included Rick Guzman, assistant chief of staff in Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner’s office.
“Aurora has always been a city of immigrants. We believe by far we are a stronger community because we have people with diverse backgrounds and cultures,” he said.
Keynote Speaker State Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora said, “This is a landmark day for you. You chose to become a citizen and worked very hard. You remind those of us who were born into citizenship that it is a precious gift. In fact, you are an inspiration. You are an example of the promise America has to offer.”
Marlo Basat was elated for his wife, Myra. Both said they left their homeland in the Philippines for a better life in the United States. Basat became a naturalized citizen five years ago.
“This is the missing link in our circle,” Basat said of his wife’s citizenship.
While Myra was seated in the front rows of the auditorium for the ceremony, he was waiting a few aisles back with their two young children.
“When we travel through airports or cruise ships, my wife is in one line for non-U.S. citizens and I am in the other,” Basat said.
Myra said she came to the United States in 2001. She is a nurse in the labor/delivery unit at Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora. The couple lives in Oswego.
“This is the greatest day of my life, aside from giving birth,” she said. “My dreams have a greater chance of coming true. I have been serving my community, but I look forward to becoming a bigger part of it.”
Luis Altuve shared a kiss with his wife, Alexandra, immediately after they each took the Oath of Allegiance. The couple 30 years ago emigrated from Venezuela and Germany respectively. They now live in Naperville with their two young children.
“We waited a long time for this,” Luis Altuve said. “The freedom in this country is second to none.”
Naturalized citizen Sabine Miller, of Aurora, emigrated from Germany in 1984.
“I decided then I was not going to leave because this is my country,” she said. “Now I can vote and serve on a jury.”Tags: immigration