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New citizens welcomed to a country in flux

First Published      Last Updated Dec 01 2016 10:50 am


More than 100 immigrants take Oath of Allegiance and register to vote.

As a child in Somalia, Mohamed Hussein's mother would take the family and flee each time a new round of violence and civil war erupted, moving the family some 10 times, always returning and starting over.

"It was really a mess," he said. "There was always violence and fighting. My mom was a great mom and always did what she could to keep us safe. … She did everything she could to feed us and protect us."

About 12 years ago it got so bad that Hussein fled to Kenya, then Uganda, before resettling as a refugee in Utah six-and-a-half years ago.




Shanuj Sarin left India in 1994, coming to the United States to study and decided for sure that he would stay after his daughter was born.

Cecelia Boateng came to Utah from Ghana 16 years ago with her husband who teaches at the University of Utah.

"It's very important," she said. "Everyone knows America is [top] overall, so I appreciate [the chance] to be part and I thank God and I pray that I can also offer my service to this great nation," she said.

These are just a few of the 101 stories of 101 immigrants from nearly three dozen countries who were sworn in as new U.S. citizens at the Utah Capitol on Wednesday, leaving behind countries from Congo to Cuba, the Philippines to Peru, to, as one speaker put it, contribute to America's diverse community.

"You guys are the secret. You guys are the ones who provide for us — for everyone — a different way of looking at the world, a different idea of the way things could be," said state Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns. "Every person who lives in the United States of America should be very grateful for what you've done and what you bring to us and for being part of the American Dream."

These new Americans, waving tiny American flags, some kissing the flag after taking the oath, are joining the citizenry at a time of transition, when what it means to be American and what direction the country will take is an open topic of discussion.

"It's just a piece of paper, but it means everything. It changes everything about you," said Juan Arriaga, after posing with family members with his citizenship certificate. "It means the world to me."

Arriaga grew up in Southern California, the child of parents who crossed the border from Mexico when he was 4 years old. The family moved to Utah to work when he was in eighth grade, when he met his future wife. For 30 years, he lived in the United States, working and raising a family, but realizing he didn't enjoy the benefits of citizenship or the legal protection it offered.

The concerns were heightened, he said, during the recent presidential election.

"With the new administration, the rhetoric they were putting out there was very, very worrisome for the immigrant community as a whole," he said. "In my case, now with this, I can take a sigh of relief and not have to worry about that stuff anymore. And now I'll be able to vote and contribute to outcomes that will matter to myself and my family."

Dozens of the new citizens lined up to turn in the voter registration forms that were included in an envelope of papers they were given before the ceremony. Hussein, who did not support Donald Trump for president — he liked Bernie Sanders and, later, Hillary Clinton — said he intends to exercise his rights and be involved in the process.

"I'm not scared, that's one thing. When you're an American citizen, you're an American citizen. There's a Constitution and there are laws here," he said. "Most of the bad things [Trump] said are not going to happen. Some of them might happen. … He had to fight and the people those issues will affect will also fight back and do whatever they can do. You have your rights."

"It's America, and it's still great," Hussein said. "President-elect Trump will be an amazing president and I'm faithful that things will still be great."

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

 

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