Thirty-nine South Jersey residents became naturalized United States citizens on Monday in a ceremony aboard the Battleship New Jersey.
The service, in which the new citizens took an oath to the U.S. and then recited of the Pledge of Allegiance, followed an annual Memorial Day celebration led by the Knights of Columbus aboard the historic ship on the Camden waterfront.
“Freedom!” exclaimed Priscilla Johnson after the ceremony, saying the U.S. offers a more open society than her native Nigeria. “You don’t know what it is to be free, to be in a land where you can air your views and people listen to you, people respect your opinion … not imposing leadership, because where I come from we have problems with that.”
Yet others worried that having temporary status in the U.S. could be risky, given the charged political rhetoric around immigration in recent years.
“You never know if they’re gonna wonder why so many people are permanent residents, why haven’t they become citizens yet,” said Leandro Vicente, who emigrated from Cuba in 2000, and now wants to become a police officer.
Still others simply felt like it was time to sign on the dotted line and complete the citizenship process.
“I’ve acclimated to this country. It’s my country, it’s my home,” said Canadian-born Tony Harold, who has been in the U.S for 48 years. “It’s where I feel at place in the world.”
The new citizens represented 29 countries, including Iraq, China, Jamaica, Israel, Vietnam, and the United Kingdom.
Nearly 730,000 people became naturalized U-S citizens during the 2015 fiscal year.