Immigrants become U.S. citizens at New York Public Library ceremony

Mosammat Rasheda Akter, 33, clutches her daughter Fahamida at a naturalization ceremony at the New York Public Library's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Tuesday.
Mosammat Rasheda Akter, 33, clutches her daughter Fahamida at a naturalization ceremony at the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Rajvi Desai

Clutching small American flags, a crowd of 200 citizenship candidates gathered in a stately room at the New York Public Library on Tuesday to share a life-changing moment together.

The group, which hailed from 50 different countries, became naturalized citizens.

“I feel proud today,” said Mosammat Rasheda Akter, 33, of the Bronx as she clutched her 7-month old daughter Fahamida. “It feels good to be a U.S. citizen.”

Akter, who is originally from Bangladesh, and other candidates had to meet a number of requirements, including demonstrating the ability to speak, read, write and understand English and being a lawful permanent resident as well as a person of “good moral character.”

The candidates were cheered by family members as their names were called and they received certificates. Many said they were not deterred by anti-immigrant sentiments that have risen across parts of the U.S.

“I want to vote, I want to save the country,” said Pascaline Beniakrou, 39, who came from the Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa. “And I like this place a lot. It’s a peaceful place where if you work hard, you can have a life here.”

Becoming a citizen means 19-year-old Dervan Victorin of St. Lucia can move from the U.S. Army Reserves to active duty.

“Words can’t explain what I am feeling right now,” said Victorin, who lives in the Bronx. “I’m overwhelmed. It’s a great feeling.”

The emotional ceremony was soaked in patriotism, from the singing of the national anthem to the administration of the oath of citizenship and finally the Pledge of Allegiance.

The name of each candidate was read out loud, as well as the names of each country represented in the room. A brief congratulatory video from President Donald Trump was screened along with another video to the song “God Bless the U.S.A.”

“As we approach July Fourth, it’s a reminder of where we began,” New York Public Library president Tony Marx told the crowd.

“The reason why New York is the capital of the world is because it, more than any other place in the world, has always said ‘come, come,’” Marx said.

According to officials, the majority of new citizens at the ceremony came from the Dominican Republic, followed by Bangladesh, China, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

“You join a diverse and distinct group of naturalized citizens, a group that includes outstanding contributors to our society,” said Timothy Houghton, deputy district director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ New York District Office. He rattled off a list of notables that ranged from Albert Einstein and Madeleine Albright to Ryan Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor.

“But it’s also important to honor the contributions of hundreds of thousands of naturalized citizens whose names are not in the papers and don’t have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame but do work that’s just as important: scientists, teachers, Wall Street executives, professional opera singers,” Houghton said.

“I encourage you to use your talents to be active citizens and give back to your community and your new country through civic participation and service.”