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Munther Gammoh was so happy after he officially became a U.S. citizen yesterday that he reached out and grabbed a hug.
His choice? An unsuspecting but smiling U.S. Magistrate Vernelis Armstrong, who presided over the ceremony.
"Because I'm citizen now and I'm so happy, I hugged the first person," said Mr. Gammoh, 36, of Jordan, who waited seven years to get a visa to the United States and another five years to become a citizen. "After the judge, I don't care who is second. Although it should be my wife."
Mr. Gammoh was one of 37 people from 23 countries who became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony in U.S. District Court in Toledo.
Surrounded by his brothers and father, Mr. Gammoh said he has long dreamed of the day he could pledge his allegiance to the United States. He has an American-born daughter and two of his brothers have become U.S. citizens, but that didn't factor into Mr. Gammoh's decision.
"Freedom," he said, waving a small version of Old Glory. "That's the reason I came here."
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Nationwide, more than 450,000 men, women, and children will become U.S. citizens this year, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Yesterday in Columbus, 808 people from 92 countries took the Oath of Allegiance and became U.S. citizens, making it the largest citizenship ceremony ever in the state.
Although the main courtroom in Toledo's federal courthouse held just a fraction of that number, the excitement of a new life resonated through the room.
Magistrate Armstrong asked that the new citizens' enthusiasm not stay behind at the ceremony, but be renewed each time they vote in an election or serve on a jury.
Charlotte Savage, 31, has studied to become a citizen since making the decision three years ago. Yesterday, she received her certificate and a small American flag as her American husband, James, and her 3-year-old daughter cheered her on from the audience.
"Yea, Mommy," little Nevaeh said.
"I thought it would be something wonderful for my family," said Mrs. Savage, formerly of Trinidad and Tobago. "The wait has finally ended, and now there is a new start."
Catherine Chea came to the United States from west Africa in 1973. She became a resident about 20 years later and yesterday, two days before her 61st birthday, she became a citizen. Dressed in traditional clothing from Liberia, Ms. Chea said she planned to celebrate by having lunch with friends.
"For me, to reach this day and to be a citizen in the United States of America, I thank God for that," she said. "I've been wondering when I'd become a citizen of America. Here it is."
Those naturalized and their countries of origin were:
Canada - Robert Alfred Venables.
Dominican Republic - Anny Zugely Morla Matos.
Greece - Stavroula Argyrious Antjas.
Guyana - Nadira Bakhsh.
Hong Kong - Yim Ngor Tsui.
India - Mahendrakumar Hirabhai Patel, Prabha Dinesh Patel, and Khozema Mohsinbhai Rajkotwala.
Iraq - Alla Hussain Alshemary and Zina Hikmat Istefan.
Japan - Emi Calvin Rogers.
Jordan - Amal Radi Awad, Munther Salem Gammoh, Fayzeh Hamdan Khalil Abu Roumi, and Abdelghani Ahmed Abdelghani Samra.
Laos - Khamphone Chaialee, Thanou Sayarath, Kanya Sourintha, Daovone Sypaseut, Khammao Thammarat, and Vy Sayyarath.
Lebanon - Abdou Ali Abdou and Jamal Ibrahim Bittar.
Liberia - Catherine Nygba Chea and Carol Outland Seton.
Mexico - Miguel Angel Garcia Benavides and Ramona Navarro.
Nigeria - Ogechi Tracy Okorie.
Panama - Carlos Enrique Sanjur Gomez.
Philippines - Tesie Antabo Craig.
Somalia - Hodan Ali Mire.
Syria - Ahmad Kazem Helo.
Thailand - Prarthana Sathanpop Coffin.
Togo - Gisele Afi Akpedze Ahamadah.
Trinidad and Tobago - Charlotte Savage.
Ukraine - Dennis Galay.
Venezuela - Melvyn Coromoto Nanez Rotundo.