Almost 1,200 people were granted U.S. citizenship during a naturalization ceremony in Austin.
The candidates filled up the Delco Activity Center, many of them joined by family and friends, for a moment they've waited several years for. “Today is the first day that you will officially enjoy the rights, the privileges and the responsibilities of being a U.S. citizen,” University of Texas President Gregory Fenves told the crowd.
The citizenship candidates traveled from 98 countries hoping to build a better life in the U.S.
For all of them, the moment they were made legal citizens was years in the making.
“I think since the time you come into the country, you go through the whole immigration process, and this moment, it's a long time, it's about 17-18 years,” said Vrushali Koranne, an Indian immigrant.
“I waited for a lot of years and I'm so excited,” said Mexican immigrant Altagracia Martinez Garcia.
“The reality still has to set in, but I'm going for my passport tomorrow morning,” said Nikhil Kashyep who also emigrated from India. Many left their families behind to start a new life in the U.S.
“Because I have more opportunities than before and I'm so proud to stay in this country,” Garcia said.
They believe the government could do more to speed up the process and help families stay together. “There are a lot of sacrifices one has to make in order to get to this point, so if there is any way to expedite the process it would help,” said Koranne.
With immigration being such a hot topic in today's political climate, and the threat of the anti-sanctuary cities bill, SB4, going into effect in Texas this fall, the new citizens feel better knowing they completed the legal process to gain U.S. citizenship.
They are still wary of the law which would allow officers to ask immigration status of a person prior to an arrest.
“It is something that is concerning, that we can be asked anytime even though we've gone through the process. We have the necessary paperwork; it's all legal and we followed rules and regulations, but still we can be asked that,” Koranne said.
“When we got our permanent residency card, one of the things that the rules stated was, you have to have it on you all the time because you could be asked,” said Sanika Chitari who also emigrated from India.
“That is a concern, because I don't carry the actual document I have a photocopy,” Kashyep said.
Thursday's ceremony was one of many U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services Independence Day themed naturalization events.
There will be 64 others like it across the country welcoming a combined 15,000 new U.S. citizens.