New U.S. citizens welcomed in ceremony

Ten men and women from all over the world celebrate their new U.S. citizenship Friday morning during a naturalization ceremony at the U.S. District Court in Elkins.

ELKINS — After years of study and preparation, 10 men and women from all over the world celebrated their new status as United States citizens Friday in Elkins.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael John Aloi presided over the naturalization ceremony, which included an oath of allegiance, the national anthem, special music, presentation of flags and more.

“It is quite an honor for me,” Aloi said as he welcomed the new citizens, family members, local groups and other community members taking part in the naturalization ceremony. “Enjoy the moment. What an honor it is for all of us to be part of this.”

The new citizens came from several countries, including Burundi, China, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Burma and Cuba.

“You all come from different places. There’s nothing wrong with loving your home of origin,” Aloi said. “Don’t ever let anyone make you feel guilty about that. … Love your home; love your new home.”

The judge also said all Americans have an obligation to welcome new people into the country.

“These are your new neighbors,” he said. “Welcome them. They’re our fellow citizens.”

Peggy Hawse, regional coordinator for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III, read a letter from the senator during Friday’s ceremony, extending congratulations to the group of new Americans.

Manchin called the occasion a “tremendous milestone” in their lives.

“Immigrants and their children founded our country. Our culture has been shaped by their contributions. I look forward to each of you helping to continue this tradition of shaping our present and future for the next generation,” Manchin said in the letter. “Congratulations on this outstanding accomplishment, and I offer you my best wishes for your future success.”

Dr. Judy Prozillo Byers, who served as the keynote speaker for the naturalization ceremony, said her grandparents immigrated from Italy to seek a better life in America.

“They couldn’t bring much with them. … But they brought what was in their hearts — their stories, their traditions,” Byers said. “Keep your roots. Keep your home in your heart. … Give the best you have to America now. We are a land (where you’re) able to pursue life, liberty and happiness.”

Byers also welcomed them not only to the United States, but also to West Virginia.

“I salute you; I embrace you today,” she said. “Love America, as I know you do, and love West Virginia. … Welcome. God bless you.”

The naturalization ceremony included a petition by Immigration Services Officer Rhonda Lewis, special music by Elkins poet and musician Doug Van Gundy and an invocation and benediction by the Rev. Raymond Godwin of St. Brendan Catholic Church. It also included representatives from local Daughters of the American Revolution groups and members of Boy Scouts of America Troop No. 88.

Two of the people who became new U.S. citizens Friday were a husband and wife from Burma, Tun Khatpau Tongseal and Merry Zam Khan Man Tongseal, who have spent the past eight years going through the process to become Americans.

The Tongseals now live in Moorefield, and said they love being here because they don’t have to be afraid of the police or military.

“We’re very excited. Our dream came true today,” Tun Tongseal said. “We really love it. We feel freedom.”