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Living the American dream: Immigrants take oath of citizenship in Gulfport

Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 9:24 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - The American dream is one shared by immigrants across the world. For some, that dream came true on Thursday as they swore an oath of citizenship at the Gulfport federal courthouse.

For Cambodian native Buntheng, saying the Pledge of Allegiance as an American citizen is something he has always dreamed of. He stood proudly in the courtroom, hand over his heart, as he recited the words to the pledge.

“It’s the best country, you know?” said Buntheng.

Becoming a citizen also offered Buntheng to become a new man, and he’s doing so with a new legal name -- Kasper Ly.

”You have the freedom to speak however you want, do whatever you want to do, become whoever you want to be,” he said, his voice full of emotion. “It’s very different from where I’m from.”

Ly set on his journey to America alone 17 years ago, arriving in South Mississippi in 2004.

“Ocean Springs, Moss Point, I moved around, mostly here,” he said.

For him, it means a life of freedom without limitations. It’s completely different from the life he experience in Cambodia, he said.

”Regarding the government or anything, you can’t just say, ‘Hey, the government sucks,’ there and you’re going to be free,” said Ly. “People have died. There’s always consequences.”

Ly joined 14 immigrants from ten different countries to became America’s newest naturalized citizens on Thursday.

United States District Judge Sul Ozerden said he’s always happy to perform naturalization ceremonies since his father, too, immigrated to America many years ago.

“It’s very personal and emotional for them,” said Ozerden. “For a couple of reasons, I’m sure. For one, it’s a long process to get through and to get to this point. Secondly, it’s a dream for most of them, like it was for my dad.”

While it can take a year, sometimes longer, from the time a citizenship application is submitted, Ly said his process actually wasn’t that long. He submitted his application in January.

“I’m so lucky and happy,” said Ly. “I feel great! I have to pinch myself like, ‘Hey I’m here.’”

And now that he’s officially a citizen, he is ready to pursue more dreams.

“I feel like more now I have the opportunity to spread my wings,” he said.

The next naturalization ceremony will be in July.

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