Between the bright red tie, white dress shirt and navy blue blazer, it was hard to determine what stood out more — James Tumay’s outfit, or the proud smile on his face.
Twelve years ago, Tumay came to the United States from Liberia on a trip with his church. When he was prepared to return home, his wife told him to stay in the U.S. because it was too dangerous to come back to Liberia.
On Friday, Tumay stood with 93 other immigrants as they were introduced to the crowd of spectators, friends and family as the newest group of U.S. citizens. More than 20 countries were represented when the group finalized the naturalization process to become U.S. citizens during a ceremony at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis.
For immigrants like Pravina Dave, the process to become a citizen, joining family members who had already gotten their citizenship, took months. Dave has traveled back and forth from the U.S. to India since the late 90s. All of her children now work and live in the U.S. and are starting families, so she wanted to become a citizen to be able to live near them and enjoy her grandchildren, Dave said.
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For Tumay, Friday’s ceremony was the realization of a goal inspired by harsh situations in his native country.
While Tumay was in the U.S. on his church trip, a rebellious uprising was taking place in Liberia and other countries, such as Sierra Leone, that line Africa’s western coast. Women were being raped, people were having their limbs amputated and others were murdered, Tumay said.
“My wife just told me, ‘Do not come home, it’s dangerous here.’ And to do everything I could to stay over here and then send for them,” Tumay said.
Tumay found refuge in the U.S. under political asylum for two years. Then, he obtained his green card and sent for his wife and three of their six children who were under age 18. Once his family joined him, he got a job at a local grocery store, where he has worked for 11 years with the goal of one day applying for his citizenship, Tumay said.
On Friday morning, Tumay, who works nights, left work early to make sure he had time to get home and get cleaned up before heading to the ceremony. Tumay arrived almost an hour early and waited anxiously.
“This day is so important to me. This is the best day ever,” Tumay said.
When Eiry Roberts and Stephen Taylor left Wales in 2002, they only intended to be in Indiana for a few years, they said. Roberts works for Eli Lilly’s branch in the United Kingdom and was sent to Indianapolis on a temporary work transfer, Roberts said.
But they realized the opportunities they could find here, not only for them, but for their two children, too, Roberts said.
The longer Roberts and Taylor lived in the U.S. on their green card, and the older their children got, the more they realized how much they wanted to be able to participate in those freedoms and become a U.S. citizen, they said. The couple’s son, Daniel Taylor, is now a sophomore at Xavier University and their daughter is a sophomore at an Indianapolis-area high school.
“I can understand why so many people are here, and why so many want to come here,” Daniel Taylor said. “I just want to participate in everything citizens are able to do, like vote. But there’s a feeling here, a feeling of opportunity that makes you think you can achieve whatever you want.”
As Judge Sarah Evans Barker took the stand to begin the ceremony, she took a moment to observe the people from many different ethnic backgrounds.
“It’s a very lovely sight up here. I wish you could see what I see. Today, we welcome 94 new citizens into our American family,” Barker said.
“You are welcome here, and you belong here.”
On Friday, immigrants who have endured a long journey and process to become a U.S. citizen were sworn in under oath, completing their naturalization process.
- New U.S. citizens: 94
- More than 20 countries represented.
- Most represented countries: Mexico, 8; China, 6.