Refugees from Asia, Africa, Mideast sworn in as US citizens

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday joined immigration officials and well-wishers in welcoming 27 refugees from the world’s trouble spots as they were sworn in as US citizens.

“This is now officially your country,” Obama said in a televised message that was beamed into the black-glass headquarters building of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services in Washington.

“In America, no dream is impossible. Like the millions of immigrants who have come before you, you have the opportunity to enrich this country through your contributions to civic society,” Obama said before a technical glitch cut short his address to the brand new US citizens.

Moments earlier, the 27 men and women who years ago had fled wars, oppressive regimes and persecution in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, had raised their right hands and pledged loyalty to the United States.

The mass naturalization ceremony was held almost 30 years to the day that president Jimmy Carter signed the Refugee Act into law on March 17, 1980.

“This ceremony speaks of our country as a refuge for people who are fleeing despair or circumstances that our country does not tolerate within its borders,” Alejandro Mayorkas, director of the USCIS, told AFP after the ceremony.

The new citizens came from Bhutan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and Vietnam.

Around three quarters of all refugees resettled every year come to the United States, said Lori Scialabba, associate director of the refugee, asylum and international operations directorate at USCIS.

Since the refugee act became law, the United States has offered protection to approximately 2.5 million refugees and 500,000 asylum seekers. Last year alone, USCIS processed 110,000 refugee applications from 109 countries and completed 33,867 asylum applications.

In the past decade, some 5.6 million people have taken the oath to become become US citizens.

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