24 new citizens honored at James A. Garfield National Historic Site

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Jul. 1—Motivated by family, work, a love for their new country and more, 24 immigrants came to Mentor's James A. Garfield National Historic Site on July 1 to take the Oath of Allegiance and become United States citizens.

"It's a great day for me and my family," said Michael Tong.

Tong, who came from Canada, said that he originally only intended to stay in the United States for one year for his job as a heart surgeon. He has now lived in the country with his family for 10 years, while his parents have been here for twice that time.

Verity Kraus came from Australia for her family. She said that she looks forward to using her citizenship to make her voice heard.

"I actively want to participate in all the different roles that it enables us to. Especially, you know, getting involved in giving your opinions to government and belief in the Constitution," Kraus said.

Ilias Sore, from Burkina Faso, also cited his desire to vote, as well as to participate in the community in other ways.

"I plan to participate in any community activities, any activity that will help the community, you know, to progress," Sore said.

He added, "For me, the United States is the best country in the world."

Ivanna Dankevych first arrived in the United States when she was around 17, when her family came from Ukraine. She also has family members from the United States.

"I'm really thankful for that, for the new opportunities for everything I have right now," she said.

The ceremony began with a presentation of the colors by the Sons of the American Revolution and a rendition of the national anthem by park ranger Alan Gephardt.

Site manager Dr. Todd Arrington emphasized that the new citizens are now a part of the American story. He said that the national parks exist to help all Americans understand the good and bad of that story, as well as enjoy the natural environment of the country.

Lisa Petit, superintendent for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, James A. Garfield National Historic Site and First Ladies National Historic Site, explained why President Garfield's home was an appropriate place to hold the ceremony.

"There may be no person who better exemplifies the American ideal and the saying that you can achieve anything... with perseverance and hard work," she said, adding that the 20th president grew up in poverty and that his father died when he was young.

The former president's family was represented by his great-great-grandson Tim Garfield, who also addressed the new citizens and greeted them as they were called up.

He later said that the home is "a beautiful setting, it's a presidential setting, it represents our country and it kind of represents the freedoms that go with it that hopefully all these people learn to enjoy."

Mentor City Manager Ken Filipiak and Lake County Commissioner John Plecnik also spoke. Filipiak encouraged the new citizens to participate in their local communities. Plecnik, whose father fled to the United States from his native Slovenia, encouraged them to join in the work of continually striving to make the United States a better place.

State Reps. Dan Troy, D-Willowick, and Jamie Callender, R-Concord Township, also addressed the citizens.

"You as new citizens can make a valuable contribution in getting us on the right path and dealing with some of the challenges we're facing today," Troy said.

Callender said that the new citizens "have ownership in this country's future. So on behalf of all of us political folks up here, we welcome you to the debate."

State Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, said, "No doubt, you and your families have undergone very tough hardships in order to get here today. But, it will be well worth it. Citizenship is one of the most sacred things that we have to offer in our country."

William Baughman, U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Ohio, led the Oath of Allegiance before welcoming new citizens as their names were individually called. The new citizens placed pins on a map of the world to highlight their countries of origin.

Also present at the ceremony were the League of Women Voters, which Arrington said provided pins, flags and refreshments, and the Lake County Board of Elections, which was there to register new citizens to vote. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services also helped with the ceremony.

A group of Boy Scouts came to earn a merit badge by attending and speaking with new citizens.

The 24 honorees came from the following countries: Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Canada, Croatia, Egypt, Greece, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Nepal, the Philippines, Russia, Ukraine and Vietnam. An additional honoree from Slovenia was unable to attend.

Arrington noted that this is the first naturalization ceremony the Garfield National Historic Site has hosted in two years due to the pandemic. The site normally hosts naturalization ceremonies twice each year on the Fridays closest to July 4 and Constitution Day, which is Sept. 17. The next naturalization ceremony at the home will be at 10 a.m. on Sept. 16.

A full list of citizenship requirements can be found on the Citizenship and Immigration Services website.