27 refugees become US citizens in Jacksonville

Published On: Aug 06 2014 08:51:41 AM EDT   Updated On: Jun 20 2014 02:27:41 PM EDT

Twenty-seven people are now U.S. citizens after taking the Oath of Allegiance Friday during a naturalization ceremony in downtown Jacksonville.

The ceremony was different than others because each new citizen was a refugee. Many of them were forced to leave their countries to escape persecution due to race, religion and political opinion.

Some said a great thing came from a scary situation.

"Basically, they told him they were just going to kill him next and they killed his partner, so he had to leave right away," Emna Rocios Sarmiento-Ramirez said of her father.

She said a group threatened to kill him because of his job, so their family had to make the quick decision to come to the U.S. from Colombia.

"We were smaller and we were younger, and it was just a lot of pressure and fear," Sarmiento-Ramirez said.

She and her mother became U.S. citizens together Friday morning. The rest of their family members will soon follow.

"It's a relief, it's exciting, it's just indescribable," Sarmiento-Ramirez said.

Lita Amin is from Iraq and knows the fear of persecution all too well.

"Being a woman, Christian, working with embassies, as my friends say, triple-trouble," Amin said. "So finally I got threatened either leaving the country or being killed."

Amin said it's a dream come true to be an American citizen after living in fear for so long.

"It's not easy because you need to watch your back wherever you go, whatever you do, you need to be careful," she said.

Because of a growing militant army, Amin said many Iraqis are probably feeling the same way right now.

"We can stand up for other countries. They need our support and our help," Amin said. "If we can do that, then let's stand up. There's children, women, old people, men are dying."

Becoming an American citizen has changed Amin's life. She said she can now pursue her own goals and careers.

"I'm excited, happy, proud, and it's like a dream come true," Amin said. "I'll be a good American as I was a good Iraqi."

It took more than six years for Amin to become an American, but she said the process was worth the wait.

Becoming an American citizen is a little different for refugees. First, they have to apply for asylum to remain in the U.S., live here for a year and then get approved for permanent residency. Then they have to live here for another five years before they can even apply to become an American citizen, which is a whole other process.


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