Naturalization ceremony welcomes new Americans

Like generations of immigrants before her, Sadoozai Panah Ihsan left her homeland and came to the United States for work.

Not because there weren't jobs in her home country, but because she could be beaten or killed if she accepted one.

That fear is one she will never have again, said Ihsan, who became an American citizen Thursday during a ceremony in the U.S. District Courthouse in Augusta.

"I go to work, I have a stable life. Women (in Afghanistan) cannot work without fear," said Ihsan, who lives in Augusta with her Afghani husband and American-born son.

Once a year, the second-floor courtroom is transformed from a place that administers justice to Americans citizens to one that bestows American ideals and justice on newcomers. For one day, the privileges of citizenship are given, instead of taken away.

The importance of the day was something District Court Judge J. Randall Hall noted in his speech to the more than two-dozen new citizens.

"To our new citizens, on behalf of this court and our nation -- we welcome you and we challenge you," Hall said, urging them not to take their new position for granted.

By the smile on Shehryar Khan's bearded face, it was hard to see how anyone could think that he might.

Khan, a Pakistani from Karachi who married an American, said all his life he has wanted to be an American citizen. The fascination began at an early age, when he would watch reruns of The Cosby Show and Full House.

Now, he lives in Augusta and sells Nissans at a local dealership. He has an 18-month-old daughter, Amber, who preceded him in citizenship.

"It's like a dream come true," Khan said.

It is also a relief for many. By this point in the process, they have completed interviews, tests and a wait that can last years.

Vanessa Pereira, 19, came to the U.S. a decade ago with her parents. Early on, she stopped watching Spanish language television so she could perfect her English. She studied the 100 potential questions for the test, but had taken American History in high school so it made the test easier.

"I actually wanted to start a life here," Pereira said. "I wasn't planning on going back."

Leah Schilling wasn't so sure. Schilling, who is from the Philippines and now lives in Savannah, met her husband, Lake, in South Korea. She struggled with the idea of giving up some part of her Filipino heritage.

"For me, it took so long to decide I wanted to become an American citizen," she said. "I'm Filipino. My family is Filipino."

Ultimately, it was the fact her children and husband were American citizens that changed her mind. It also helped that her best friend, Lavinia Bade, was also becoming a U.S. citizen. Bade and Schilling met while their husbands, who are both in the Army, were serving in South Korea.

By luck, they both took their citizenship oath on the same day.

"I want to vote," Bade said. "I want to bring my daughter -- my children here."

Reach Adam Folk (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.

A GLOBAL MELTING POT

Home countries of those naturalized at Thursday's ceremony include:

- Afghanistan
- Mexico
- Bolivia
- Pakistan
- Brazil
- Philippines
- Canada
- South Africa
- Colombia
- South Korea
- Ethiopia
- Ukraine
- India
- Vietnam
- Jamaica
- Zambia

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