From Iraq to Peru to USA: Judge swears in new citizens at Columbia Rotary meeting

jmonk@thestate.comFebruary 10, 2014 

U.S. Judge Joe Anderson with three new citizens: (from left) Vicky Castro of Ecuador, Johanna Diaz and Jennifer Cruz, both from the Domician Republic.

PHOTO BY JOHN MONK

Federal Judge Joe Anderson filled a longtime dream Monday by swearing in more than two dozen new citizens of the United States before some 200 members of his Columbia Rotary Club.

“We take it for granted because we are born here and just assume it all is ours,” Anderson said after the 30-minute ceremony at Seawell’s along Rosewood Drive. “We are so lucky.”

Other dreams were fulfilled as 29 men and women in the room from around the world raised their hands, renounced allegiance to their birth countries and took the oath to become Americans.

“I’m very happy,” Taniya Mathew, 22, said later. She is from India and hopes to become a family physician. “It’s a great moment that I got citizenship with the greatest country in the world.”

Besides India, Monday’s new crop of citizens came from Egypt, Vietnam, Laos, Iraq, Peru, Ukraine, China, Mexico, Germany, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Belarus and El Salvador. After the ceremony, new citizens were given miniature American flags by the American Legion, a copy of the Bill of Rights by the Colonial Dames and a voter registration guide by the League of Women Voters.

Anderson also had two naturalized citizens speak to the group: his law clerk, Sara Svedberg, 36, a native of Sweden and a University of South Carolina School of Law graduate; and Alex Koutrakos, 69. a native of Sparta, Greece, owner of Columbia’s Grecian Gardens restaurant.

“It is a bittersweet moment for many people,” Svedberg said of an immigrant’s taking the oath, because it means he or she renounces his birth country. “But it is also a glorious moment.” She then read a list of previous naturalized citizens, including Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell and Bob Hope.

Koutrakos told the crowd, “I love my motherland, Greece, but now I have a second motherland, the United States, and I call it my home.”

Concluding the ceremony, retired Columbia businessman and Vietnam prisoner of war Jack Van Loan led the new citizens in the Pledge of Allegiance, and Columbia Methodist Pastor Rex Wilson led a benediction that quoted in part words on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ....”

“May you find in this nation the fulfillment of your dreams for peace and security, and may America in turn never find you wanting in your new proud role as citizens,” Anderson said..

More than 500,000 new citizens are naturalized each year nationwide. Before they can be naturalized, they have to pass a rigorous test on American history and the Constitution and be able to speak, read and understand English. Many of the ceremonies take place in larger cities, such as Charleston or Atlanta.

“If they come here, they want to succeed,” Anderson said later. “We get the cream of the crop from other countries.”

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