Realizing the American dream

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - By Jeff Lawson – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The William Carey Singers performed America the Beautiful and the National Anthem as 20 people from 15 different countries became American Citizens at a naturalization ceremony.

It's an American experience unlike any other. Hand to the heart, pledging allegiance and becoming a U.S. Citizen.

"I say congratulations to them. We owe them a debt of gratitude. They will contribute to this country just like immigrants before them have. We say thank you," U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden said, after administrating the Oath of Allegiance.

One by one the excited new Americans from several corners of the world became U.S. Citizens in  Sul Ozerden's courtroom at the federal building in Gulfport.

Maher Faissal, from Lebanon said this was the day he's been waiting for "It feels great. I've been waiting a long time for this. I'm really happy to be a citizen of the United States."

Sophie Michaud Thornton was born in France and said it was time to make her citizenship a reality, "I've been here since 1998. I feel more American then French. I decided to proceed and I'm so happy."

Imelda Butterfield came over from the Philippines and was very excited "It feels great. I love it. I'm very proud to be part of the United States."

Judge Ozerden feels a very personal connection to these new citizens. His father came to America from Turkey in 1963.

On the bench, a suitcase and a plane ticket that symbolizes that journey to American citizenship. "Sometimes it almost brings a tear to my eyes when I look out there and remember my father going through the process. If not for him taking a risk, I might not be here," Ozerden said.

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