NewsThe SouthSider

At naturalization ceremonies, immigrants celebrate ‘beginning of a new life’ 

ST. LOUIS – Twenty people became new U.S. citizens here on Saturday during a naturalization ceremony at Kiener Plaza. Judge Matthew Schelp, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Missouri, administered the oath to the 20 people here as similar ceremonies were held around the region and the nation.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services celebrates the Fourth of July every year by holding special Independence Day-themed naturalization ceremonies to demonstrate the “commitment to welcoming immigrants and promoting the benefits of U.S. citizenship for all who are eligible,” it says on its website.

This year, from July 1 to July 8, the USCIS is welcoming more than 6,600 new citizens in more than 140 naturalization ceremonies.

After each naturalization ceremony, the USCIS encourages new U.S. citizens to share their naturalization stories and photos on social media using the hashtag #NewUScitizen. The stories and photos are posted on TwitterInstagramYouTubeFacebook and LinkedIn.

In Kansas City on Sunday, Ming Zhang celebrated her naturalization alongside 46 other new citizens. In the nearly 14 years she’s been in the U.S., Zhang has completed her law degree, started a family and moved to Kansas.

Ming Zhang, an Overland Park resident, made her naturalization official during a special ceremony July 3, 2022, for 47 immigrants in honor of Independence Day. Kansas Reflector photo

“I just really love the freedom here,” Zhang said. “[The] people are friendly and the culture — I just really fell in love here.”

With a passion for justice, Zhang knew she wanted to study in the U.S. She moved in 2008 to study in upstate New York at Cornell University, where she went on to complete her Juris Doctor and meet her husband. Together, they moved to his home state of Kansas.

“After I went to law school in China, I realized that I wanted to come abroad,” Zhang said, “and then see what the common law is like here in the States versus China. After that, it was just amazing work.”

U.S. District Judge Robert D. Berger administered the Oath of Citizenship for the new citizens, who came from 27 countries.

Another in the group, Samuel Swift-Perez, had left Venezuela in 2014 because of political unrest.

“[This ceremony] means the beginning of a new life,” Samuel said. “It’s actually some kind of relief, to feel finally as a citizen because [for immigrants] you actually are a temporary resident and then a permanent resident, but you still feel a little limited. But now I feel very, very good and I’m very happy.”

He met his wife, Lacey Swift-Perez, in Kansas City. They’ve been married for four years now and said they were looking forward to the future. Wiping tears from her face, Lacey said the ceremony marked the end of uncertainty and fear for her husband’s future.

“I’m really grateful for this process,” Lacey said. “I’m really grateful that we made it to this point that he is now a full citizen and is able to be safe in our country.”

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., was in attendance to show support for the new U.S. citizens. For her first time seeing a naturalization ceremony, Davids said, she was excited to celebrate the 47 new citizens.

“It’s pretty amazing to get the chance to be here,” Davids said. “A lot of people work really, really hard to be able to go through the entire process with the tests and everything else. I feel honored that I get to be part of this.”

This story was originally published by the Kansas Reflector, a States Newsroom affiliate.

Staff is home to The NorthSider and The SouthSider weekly community newspapers. The SouthSider publishes 25,000 copies every Tuesday. The NorthSider publishes 25,000 copies every Thursday. They are distributed at over 600 locations across St. Louis.

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