MOUNT PLEASANT — They came from 52 countries around the world to become U.S. citizens and renounce allegiance to their native land.
“I know that each of you have made a courageous decision,” said U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Gergel.
Gergel, who said his grandparents were from Poland and Russia, led 111 people in an oath as they swore to become Americans.
“It's a relief. It was an arduous process,” said John Lee, 19, a Myrtle Beach resident from South Korea.
His mother, Meesook Lee, also became a citizen. The family has a dry cleaning business and John Lee is a student at Clemson University.
“There are a lot more opportunities in America than you can find anywhere else,” he said.
The naturalization ceremony took place Tuesday in a large tent erected on the grounds of the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.
“I finally get to vote. No more showing the green card,” said Renate Marek, 41, a native of Germany who lives in Columbia.
Lance Cpl. Tung Lam, who came from Vietnam, said he arrived in Los Angeles with his parents in 2004. Lam, 20, is stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort.
“Today feels like I'm reborn. I consider it my second birthday,” he said.
The candidates for citizenship represented a diversity of nations including the Philippines, India, China, Canada, Nigeria, Jamaica, Venezuela, England, Russia, Mexico, Argentina and Somalia. They pledged to support and defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. They promised to bear arms on behalf of the U.S. when required by law.
The citizenship applicants completed a three- to four-month process of naturalization that included passing a U.S. government and history exam and demonstrating the ability to read, write and speak English. They also went through an extensive background check and security clearance.
In federal fiscal year 2013, some 5,000 people in South Carolina became U.S. citizens. Weekly naturalization ceremonies occur at government offices, said Karen Dalziel of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Some immigrants petition the court for a name change. “A lot of them like to Anglify their name. Some of them like to choose an historical name,” she said.
The naturalization ceremony was the 16th annual one held at the Pinckney Historic Site under the auspices of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the National Park Service and the U.S. District Court. The Daughters of the American Revolution provided refreshments and distributed U.S. flags. The Wando High School Choir performed the National Anthem, and the Citadel Color Guard participated. Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall congratulated the new citizens and welcomed them to Mount Pleasant.
Senior Airman Alvaro Koo, 24, of Panama, who wore military fatigues, said becoming a citizen meant he could re-enlist in the Air Force in the next few months. Koo, who came to the U.S. with his parents, said he is stationed at Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter.
“You lose something,” he said of renouncing his Panamanian citizenship. “At the same time, you gain something new,” he said.
Emmanuel Tayi, 23, of Ivory Coast in West Africa, serves in the Air Force. He said that his new U.S. citizenship gives him more opportunities in the military.
“It's like a next step,” he said.