Aashna Lalla, 3, watches as her father, Anish Lalla, originally from India, becomes a U.S. citizen.
Manuel Mendoza Rodriguez of Fremont has possessed a green card that allows him to live legally in the United States for 38 years.
But as Mr. Rodriguez, now in his 60s, watched battles over immigration reform intensify, his desire to establish citizenship grew.
“I was scared that I might lose it [his green card] because some people don’t want us here,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “I wanted to become a United States citizen because I have grandchildren now. I want to make sure I will always be here for them.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view more photos of the ceremony.
On Wednesday, Mr. Rodriguez was among 41 new citizens naturalized during a ceremony in the Central Catholic High School gymnasium before almost 900 students and school officials.
An additional 200 people, mostly the new citizens’ relatives and friends, looked on.
The students showered the new citizens with thunderous applause, song and musical performances, and even a brief version of The Wave around the gym.
Their energy rubbed off on the new citizens, who ran excitedly through aisles waving small American flags after their names were called to approach the stage, where U.S. District Court Judge Jack Zouhary waited to congratulate and present them with their official documents.
Jorge Mario Upegui Betancur of Colombia was so excited he turned to the students, grabbed his own suit coat lapels and began performing an animated victory dance resembling that of a professional wrestler. After his dance, he pumped his fists in the air, turning to perform before each section of the gym as students roared.
Luis Fernando Villafuerte Reyna, 23, of Cincinnati said it was difficult when he first came to America. Born in Mexico City, Mr. Villafuerte was 6 when his mother married an American and moved to Ohio.
Mr. Reyna said part of the immigration problem is Mexico’s rampant corruption: Obtaining documents can require bribes, and that still doesn’t guarantee approval of a United States entry visa, he said.
“It’s very difficult and expensive to come here, and then they deny it,” he said. “That’s why people do it the wrong way.”
Giezi Hernandez Izaguirre, 28, whose family is originally from Mexico’s Linares, Nuevo Leon, agreed, saying his family didn’t have enough money to apply for a visa when they came to America 18 years ago.
The family of five shoved as many clothes as they could into one small suitcase and left all other possessions and their home behind. Mexican border agents said the family couldn’t afford a visa, but sold them a three-day pass, Mr. Izaguirre said.
The family gave the border agents their money and never returned.
Mr. Hernandez, who lives in Fulton County’s Pettisville, said his biggest disappointment was that his parents didn’t attend the ceremony Wednesday — the elder Hernandezes are not living in the country legally.
“They brought us here because we were struggling economically in Mexico,” he said. “My mother worked for an American car factory and my dad drove a school bus and played in a Christian band. But we couldn’t get ahead. They sacrificed their lives for us.”
The new Americans and their native countries are:
Argentina: Daiana Soledad Reinhart
Bangladesh: Bhuiyan Monwar Alam, Sharmin Sultana
Canada: Marjorie Anne Craig, William Peter Craig, Alexandra Mary Jessie House
Colombia: Jorge Mario Upegui Betancur, Maria Victoria Caro
Ecuador: Maria Belen Davenport
Egypt: Wasim Selwanes
France: Tammam Abdul Aziz
India: Vinay Kumar Gudena, Anish Lalla, Lakshmi Chaitanya Namballa, Dhara Dharmendra Patel, Jalpa Jignesh Patel, Sudershan Pasupuleti, Susheelabai Ragothama Srinivasa, Sushil Prasen Sudershan, Paresh Vimalkumar Suthar
Iran: Marzieh Aarabi
Italy: Antonino Scontrino
Jamaica: TerryAnn Cameal Good-ridge
Laos: Sengmany Seng Cheuanjith
Lebanon: Said Izzat Rahal, Ahmad Kamel Saleh, Wasim Ibrahim Saleh
Mexico: Giezi Hernandez Izaguirre, Luis Fernando Villafuerte Reyna, Manuel Mendoza Rodriguez, Luisa Nayeli Vazquez.
Nigeria: Olanrewaju Bolupe Balogun, Imhoitsemeh Nurat Dako, Tomori OLaniran
Philippines: Arlene Selario Gay, Dimag Seb Aten Helms
Romania: Mircea Handru
Russia: Daria Aleksandrovna Pant-sevich
Venezuela: Maria Cristina Arria, Raul Jose Morello
Vietnam: Henry Nguyen
Contact Federico Martinez at: email@example.com or 419-724-6154.