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200 immigrants become U.S. citizens at Cantigny
By Melissa Jenco | Daily Herald Staff

Ivan Carlos, originally from Mexico, took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States Monday with 200 other immigrants who earned their citizenship during a ceremony at Cantigny in Wheaton.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

Ivan Carlos from Mexico holds onto his new American flag Monday after becoming a U.S. citizen during a ceremony at Cantigny in Wheaton.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

Students from Marmion Academy in Aurora post and retire the colors Monday during a citizenship ceremony at Cantigny in Wheaton. Roughly 200 immigrants from 52 countries took an Oath of Allegiance to the United States, the last step to becoming a citizen.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/14/2009 1:25 PM | Updated: 9/14/2009 5:54 PM

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Linda Castillo-Wakitsch just wants her voice to be heard.

The Elgin resident, originally from Belize, has been in the United States for 29 years and has taken a strong interest in politics. But as a resident alien, she could only be a spectator in the process.

Until now.

Castillo-Wakitsch was one of 200 immigrants from 52 countries who took the Oath of Allegiance to become U.S. citizens during a ceremony Monday at Cantigny Park in Wheaton.

"It's like my voice really couldn't be heard because I wasn't able to vote, so this gives me that one opportunity that was lacking before," Castillo-Wakitsch said as she clutched a certificate certifying her citizenship.

Cantigny has played host to the citizenship ceremony annually since 2005 as part of Constitution Week.

During the ceremony, the new citizens were welcomed by President Barack Obama via a recorded video message.

"With the privilege of citizenship ... comes great responsibility," Obama said. "I ask that you use your freedoms and your talents to contribute to the good of our nation and our world. Always remember in America no dream is impossible."

The highest numbers of new citizens were from India and Mexico.

"I'm reminded again there are many languages and many cultures and many traditions that come together to form the fabric of American society and today our nation is ... stronger by the addition of 200 new citizens," said U.S. District Court Judge Robert Dow who presided over the ceremony.

Roughly 46,000 immigrants in the Chicago area became residents in the past year. They must first hold permanent resident status for five years, three years if they are married to a citizen.

Before the ceremony the prospective citizens also had to demonstrate English language proficiency and an understanding of American democracy and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Monday's oath then included breaking allegiance to any foreign nation or leader. The new citizens promised to defend the Constitution, and if required, to bear arms on behalf of the country or perform noncombatant service in the armed forces.

For Snehal Patel of Villa Park, it was not easy to leave his parents and other family members in India when he came to the U.S. from India three years ago. But Patel's wife was already in America and he knew it would also be a good move for his career as a doctor.

There are "great opportunities here, freedom of everything," he said.

Greta Miskiniene's life changed five years ago when she won a green card lottery and left Lithuania for the U.S. She now lives in Woodridge and is excited to be a U.S. citizen.

"I like the friendly people," she said. "Most of them are really happy and really friendly. That's what I discovered here."