More than 80 become U.S. citizens in Pittsburgh ceremony

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

When Narender Sharma headed to the United States from India nearly 25 years ago, he sought more choices for his career and family. He and his wife of 41 years, Kusum, found it in Western Pennsylvania.

In a house in McKnight Circle in Ross, they raised two sons who would grow up and become computer science engineers back in India.

“It is the most livable place,” he said of Pittsburgh, “and family-oriented.”

Kusum was one of more than 80 immigrants to become naturalized Americans at a Citizen and Immigration Services ceremony on Friday morning in Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland. All told, they represented 40 counties.

Out of a list of 83 addresses, 49 of the new citizens settled in Pittsburgh ZIP codes.

Addressing the new Americans moments after they swore an Oath of Allegiance, Mayor Bill Peduto called immigrants “the future of this region.”

The Pittsburgh region's population has struggled to keep pace in recent years as deaths outpace births. Census data compiled by civic data program Pittsburgh Today shows the seven-county region vacillated between 2.35 million and 2.36 million from 2007 through 2013.

Peduto aims to increase the city's population by 20,000 in the next decade, in part by attracting a larger immigrant population. He called the city's Oakland area “the new Ellis Island” for the region, drawing in medical, academic and tech-sector communities.

“Today, we're not producing steel,” Peduto said. “We're producing innovation.”

Yet lower-skilled workers have a place here too, the mayor said, such as redeveloping blighted neighborhoods with new businesses.

Stephen Winikoff, who became a U.S. citizen at the ceremony, hails from Montreal. He settled here in 2000 and married his wife, Susan, four years later. They live in Franklin Park, near Susan's job in Cranberry. Winikoff, an architect at a Downtown-based firm, said he thinks Pittsburgh compares well to other cities — and sees growth.

“It seems Pittsburgh is an up-and-coming city,” he said.

The Pittsburgh region experienced a net 2,778 increase of immigrants in 2013 — a nine-year high, according to Pittsburgh Today. Most of them, or 2,446, settled in Allegheny County, according to the data.

While on the campaign trail, Peduto proposed making Pittsburgh more welcoming to immigrants by offering city-sponsored English and citizenship classes for those new to the country. He proposed foreign language translations on city websites and documents outlining residential and business programs. Upon taking office, he established a new position, the nonprofit and faith-based manager, filled by Betty Cruz, to coordinate with community groups already serving immigrant populations.

“When an immigrant group moves in to the community and feels like this can be their home, they stay, and then other family and friends come,” she said. “That's where you start to see the vibrant nature of their presence take hold, and multiple businesses opening up and community being built around their culture, but also integrating into the culture.”

For Sharma, smiling ear to ear as his wife stood to take the Oath of Allegiance, being in America has meant being a part of its diversity.

“If you have different colored flowers, they look more beautiful, right?” he said. “This is what America is.”

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or

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