CHICAGO (WLS) -- A long-awaited naturalization ceremony in Chicago welcomed hundreds of new U.S. citizens from dozens of countries from around the world.
In a hall previously graced by presidents, and despite a pandemic, worries of war and questions about whether America can still solve its problems, 472 newly minted citizens said yes to America on Monday.
"This is my dream," said Meiselle Fesalvo, from the Philippines. "This is my dream. I earned it, I worked hard for it and I am proud."
"I am one of the happiest guys today," said Emmanuel Chikere, of Nigera. "And it is a privilege coming to one of the best - the best - country in the world. I am very proud to be a citizen today."
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Many in this hall have taken 15-20 years to complete their citizenship journey. People from 82 countries took the monumental step on Monday.
"Whether you came here for school or for a job or a loved one or whether this is the only country that you've ever known, I am so very proud to stand beside you as your fellow citizen," Gov. JB Pritzker said.
"I learned English, and I am bilingual and I am working with a company that speaks French and English," said Wendemi Toenabi, of Burkina Faso. "And I am so proud I am in this country and I feel like home."
"Your presence here today helps to renew our faith in our country," Judge Matthew F. Kennelly, 7th U.S. Judicial Circuit.
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A couple from Mexico and Ukraine said this day is about making the American ethos your own.
"So here you have more opportunities and more freedom and more power to do it," said Myroslav Mykhaylyshyn, of Ukraine.
"Oh my God, I feel the tears in my eyes," Lorna Mykhaylyshyn added. "This is like sad, but at the same happy because I have the best man beside me who supports me in everything."
U.S. Customs and Immigration held the ceremony at the Auditorium Theatre in part because of the backlog on ceremonies due to the pandemic. In 2020, the Migration Policy Institute said 613,000 took the oath, a 27 percent drop from the year before, despite little reduction in demand for that essential identity: that of American citizen.
More than 7 million people have applied online for immigration benefits. To file online, applicants must first create a USCIS online account at https://myaccount.uscis.gov/users/sign_up.
Chicago naturalization ceremony: 472 new citizens from 82 countries sworn in at Auditorium Theater