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'This is my country now' | Illinois welcomes 39 newly naturalized citizens in Moline

More than 25% of the inductees hailed from Congo Kinshasa.

MOLINE, Ill. — The Moline Public Library hosted a naturalization ceremony for 39 brand-new Americans and their friends, families and other guests on Friday, Jan. 13.

Naturalization is when someone becomes a lawful permanent resident in the United States through an application process. It differs from Acquisition, where legal citizenship is bestowed on a minor through birth from parents who are already lawful citizens or after birth, but under 18 years of age.

"It's really hard to put into words because it's just a mixture of emotions I see on everyone's faces," Chief U.S. District Court Judge for Central Illinois Sara Darrow said. "No matter what path brought folks here. Some of it was great hardship, others it was opportunity [and] sometimes it was a mix of both; it was a great journey."

Judge Darrow presided over this ceremony just as she has done for almost 50 others. She was joined at the helm by Rep. Eric Sorensen, Deputy Clerk Marleen Cooke, Moline Public Library Director Byron Lear, Command Sergeant Major at the Rock Island Arsenal John E. Dobbins and representatives from the United States Citizen & Immigration Services and Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. 

41 people were scheduled to be naturalized, but two were unable to make it. Of the 41 people originally scheduled, here's how many came from each of the 12 countries represented by the group.

  • Afghanistan - 1 
  • Burma - 7
  • Burundi - 3
  • China - 1 
  • Congo Kinshasa - 10
  • Egypt - 1 
  • India - 1
  • Iraq - 2 
  • Kenya - 1
  • Mexico - 5 
  • Togo - 8
  • Uzbekistan - 1

21-year-old Atem Agot came to the Quad Cities from Kenya years ago. He was supposed to become naturalized in 2020, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, any thoughts of finally obtaining citizenship were put on hold, until now.

"My mom left her family and a lot of people she cared for to find a better place for us," Agot said. He has several older and younger siblings currently in college and high school, but none of them were unable to attend the ceremony. 

His family's sponsor, Kim Mitchell, was also unable to attend because she was out of town. She said the notification that the naturalization ceremony was happening arrived just two weeks ago. But despite that, Agot said "it felt good" to finally go through the ceremony and finally become a naturalized American.

And he's not the only person to feel jubilant. 

57-year-old Olga Cruz from Mexico said it's a relief to finally be able to call herself an American after living in the country for over 30 years since her marriage in 1990.

"I feel happy, Cruz said. "I cannot explain how, but this is like something I've never felt. It's so exciting," she added with a big smile on her face.

She said she's been going through the application process for about six months and today when she read the Oath of Allegiance, she said she was proud.

"I feel like this is my country now. I work very hard to do this and now I feel like this is my country. That's what I feel now."

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