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Nearly 100 become citizens in Pittsburgh ceremony as Congress haggles over immigration overhaul

| Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013, 7:46 p.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
John Kagunyi, 31, along with 48 other people, takes his oath of citizenship during a United States Naturalization Ceremony in U.S. District Court, Downtown, Friday, July 26, 2013. Kagunyi was born in Kenya, and now lives in Natrona Heights.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
R.J. Krishnaswamy, 6, holds his hand to his heart during the playing of the National Anthem at a United States Naturalization Ceremony at U.S. District Court, Downtown, Friday, July 26, 2013. R.J.'s father, Raja, from India, became a citizen of the United States during the ceremony.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Maximilian Shaffer, 2, waves an American flag in celebration of his mother, Sheila Cuellar-Shaffer, becoming a U.S. citizen during a United States Naturalization Ceremony at U.S. District Court, Downtown, Friday, July 26, 2013. Sheila, born in Colombia, now lives in Hempfield, with husband, Maximilian's father, Adam Shaffer.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Friends, family, and new citizens photograph loved ones during a United States Naturalization Ceremony in U.S. District Court, Downtown, Friday, July 26, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
A group of immigrants take the Oath of Citizenship during a United States Naturalization Ceremony in U.S. District Court, Downtown, Friday, July 26, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
New citizens of the United States watch a video featuring President Obama during a United States Naturalization Ceremony in U.S. District Court, Downtown, Friday, July 26, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Min Zhang, 46, of Butler, smiles after taking the Oath of Citizenship during a United States Naturalization Ceremony in U.S. District Court, Downtown, Friday, July 26, 2013. Zhang is originally from China.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
John Kagunyi, 31, along with 48 other people, takes his oath of citizenship during a United States Naturalization Ceremony in U.S. District Court, Downtown, Friday, July 26, 2013. Kagunyi was born in Kenya, and now lives in Natrona Heights.

Philip Titus-Glover is a newly minted U.S. citizen.

He took an oath and pledged allegiance during a ceremony last month at the U.S. District Courthouse, Downtown. Valerie Tobias, the director of the Pittsburgh field office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services, encouraged him to vote. She gave him a U.S. flag and a certificate declaring him a legal citizen.

Nearly 100 new citizens joined Titus-Glover, who left Ghana in 2006, during two naturalization ceremonies on July 26. They came from 39 countries, from South America, Europe, Africa and Nepal. Some had lived in America for five, six or seven years. One lived in the United States for two decades before deciding to become a citizen. Some came for school, some for family and some for work.

Despite their differences in gender, race, age and country of origin, America's newest citizens spent years following rules and enduring a sometimes complex, frustrating and costly path to citizenship.

Today, Congress is locked in a fierce debate over immigration legislation.

The Democrat-controlled Senate passed a 1,187-page bill including provisions to bolster border security, create a 13-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11.1 million people living in America illegally and clear in 10 years the backlog of 4.4 million people waiting to enter the country legally.

The Republican-controlled House decided to address immigration issues in a piecemeal fashion, passing a series of smaller bills.

As a bitterly divided Congress debates new laws, Titus-Glover and fellow new citizens offer a poignant perspective about immigration and amnesty.

“I did everything right to get here,” said Titus-Glover, 42, of Wheeling, W.Va. “It's frustrating to see people who didn't do it right get a free ride. In doing this, we're kind of setting a precedent.”

Titus-Glover and his wife, who he met in the United States, have three children who were born here. He came to America seeking a solid education for his not-yet born children. He also found opportunity.

While working for a law firm, he stumbled across a company that refurbished and resold cellphones, laptops and other consumer electronics. Titus-Glover thought he could do it better and cheaper. He started 3R Electronics in 2008. Titus-Glover resells the electronics domestically now, but he plans to eventually expand his business to other countries, including Ghana, where consumers consider new what Americans consider old, he said.

Other new citizens see it differently.

“I don't understand why they shouldn't be given an opportunity to live here and become part of the community,” John Kagunyi, 31, of Natrona Heights said of illegal immigrants.

Kagunyi would support a path to citizenship for those with a clean background who want to contribute to society. If they want to pay taxes, let them live here, Kagunyi said. He has a friend living in the country illegally. The fear of being caught and deported is paralyzing, he said.

Kagunyi left Kenya in 2006 to see America, a country people in his homeland talked about and watched with awe on television.

“I loved it. That's why I applied for a green card,” Kagunyi said. “They say it's a land of opportunity. I wanted to be part of it.”

He became a citizen after a lengthy process he described as hard but fair.

“Eventually, you'll get it,” he said.

Kagunyi hopes to bring over his father from Kenya. The two talk often. Kagunyi called him the morning of his naturalization ceremony. He fears the process to bring his father to America could take years.

“I hope they make it much easier for us to bring families here,” he said.

Min Zhang said she hopes for changes to the immigration system.

Zhang, 46, of Butler earned her citizenship last month. She fretted about the tests Citizenship and Immigration Services requires of aspiring citizens. Her husband, Phillip Bouse, 62, said everyone should go through the same scrutiny.

“There's got to be a process that everyone has to go through,” Bouse said. “You just can't change something.”

The couple met on the Pacific island of Saipan while Bouse was stationed in Japan with the Navy. They married 10 years ago and returned to the United States eight years ago, Bouse said. Frightened of the tests, Zhang worried about the decision to become a citizen.

Stephen Irwing, 60, of Acme said making the decision to pursue citizenship is an important step in the process. He believes granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants could diminish the value of his own effort.

Irwing moved from England in 1993. After living in America for 20 years under a green card, he made the decision to seek citizenship.

“People should be proud to make that decision,” Irwing said. “It's relatively painless. It just takes time.”

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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