'Welcome home,' 16 new U.S. citizens told at naturalization ceremony in Greensburg
In all, there were 16 candidates.
They came from 13 countries on five continents, ranged in age from 19 to 73 and represented a veritable melting pot of ethnicities.
All had waited for years and traveled thousands of miles on a journey that ended Wednesday in Greensburg where they took the Oath of Allegiance before a U.S. flag at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art.
In a ceremony rife with emotion, Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rita Hathaway reminded the group that their differences were now subsumed to one commonality.
"As of today, you are no longer Italian, Pakistani, Kenyan, Iranian or other cultures that you came from. You are like me, American," Hathaway said.
Each year approximately 700,000 individuals become new American citizens in naturalization ceremonies across the U.S.
Their reasons for seeking citizenship are almost as varied as their numbers. While some have fled oppression, others have come for opportunity and still others have come with an American spouse, anxious to share citizenship.
Duki Maya Chhetri, 73, the oldest of the new Americans in Greensburg, fought back tears as she stood to take the oath. Dressed in a bright red sweater and floor-length skirt, the petite woman with hair smoothed into a neat bun occasionally glanced nervously at her son, Lal Csseti, 40, and her smiling granddaughter, 3-year-old Ausmika.
Chhetri was born in India, but her husband was Bhutanese and she traveled halfway around the world to finally find a home in a Bhutanese community in southern Allegheny County.
At the other end of the spectrum, 19 year-old Ilva Myzyri, a native of Albania, was anxious to get back to Penn State where she is a sophomore information technology major.
Myzyri, who was born in Albania, came to the U.S. 16 years ago when her mother took a job with the World Bank. She's thought of herself as American for a long time.
"This formalizes it," she said.
Malek Messali, 29, said it was opportunity that drew him to the United States from Algeria. Dressed stylishly in a dark, slim-cut suit, white shirt and tie, Messali said he works at the Double Tree Hotel in Pittsburgh. His brother recently joined him in the United States. He's optimistic about their future.
"I just have a few more credits to go for my degree from CCAC," Messali said.
Once a magnet for tens of thousands of immigrants who came to work in the mines and mills and went on to claim citizenship, Western Pennsylvania today holds only a handful of naturalizations.
Pennsylvania, with 16,554 naturalizations in 2015, fell far behind California with nearly 156,000 and New York with 90,000.
Although there are some mechanisms to expedite the process for those in military service or married to U.S. citizens, most immigrants must obtain status as permanent legal residents and then establish permanent residency for five years before they can they apply for naturalization.
Westmoreland County President Judge Richard McCormick reflected on the magnitude of such decisions Wednesday as he wrapped up the ceremony at the museum.
"Being welcoming makes us stronger as a country," McCormick said. He paused, then called out the new citizens by name, one by one.
"Adeel, Asia, David, Duki, Emma, Florina, Ilva, Kaushile, Luigi, Malek, Mohamed, Ram, Syeda, Vahid, Chang, Muhammad. ... Welcome home," McCormick said.
Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer.