More than 500 people from 88 countries became United States citizens in Sterling Saturday, taking the oath of allegiance in unison at a naturalization ceremony at Dominion High School.
“Congratulations, you are Americans,” was announced to a round of cheers and applause, with American flags waving as the newest citizens rejoiced.
For Michelle Fontana, those words meant she could finally feel at home with her American-born daughter and family.
“I never thought I was going to be an American,” Fontana said with tears in her eyes.
Even though she had her green card though marriage, she opted to go through the process of becoming a U.S. citizen formally, a decision she said she made due to her daughter and another baby on the way.
“I am happy. Every part of my family is going to be an American now," she said.
The oath of allegiance is an emotional end to an applicant’s immigration journey, which for many was an extensive process taking more than five years.
“I feel like I’m born again,” said Nihad Aliakbar, an Iraqi who became a citizen Saturday.
“I've been waiting for this for so long...I love America, “ Maria Castagnio from Peru said. “This is going to bring me so many opportunities. I am just extremely happy.”
Maher Ibrahim was an Iraqi translator for United States Marines during the Iraq war, forced to flee his home country when he no longer felt safe in 2009.
Ibrahim joined the National Guard and, in a new uniform Saturday, sang a new national anthem for his new country.
“It was dangerous for me to stay there,” he said. “It’s a very special day for me. I was almost full of tears but I held it."
The new citizens are encouraged to continue their home country’s traditions in the United States – cook the same food, practice their same religion and teach their children their native language.
Fontana said that is what she can offer the country that has already offered her so much.
“I think I have a lot of things to give for this country, more than I had before,” Fontana said.