50 become new citizens to mark Hawaii statehood


POSTED: Friday, August 21, 2009

After years of waiting, 50 people from 14 countries officially became naturalized citizens after being sworn in yesterday morning at the state Capitol.

“;I feel like I belong now after so many years,”; said Makiki resident Jocelyn Aguilar, who emigrated from the Philippines nearly 20 years ago.

The ceremony, which was presided over by U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, Mayor Mufi Hannemann, Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona and U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright, also coincided with the state's 50th anniversary. To recognize this event, Inouye officially declared yesterday as 50th Anniversary of Statehood Citizenship Day.

The United States is seeing a record number of people emigrating to the country and being naturalized, Immigration Services spokeswoman Sharon Rummery said. During the 2007 fiscal year, nearly 700,000 citizens were naturalized.

This number increased last year to include more than 1 million people who took the oath of allegiance as new U.S. citizens nationwide.

“;Last year was a special year,”; Rummery said. “;There were a lot of pressures and influences at play, and we had record numbers of people applying.”;

Rummery said the process of citizenship can take up to five years, beginning when recent immigrants apply for a green card to reside in the country. Green card holders must then wait five years before applying for U.S. citizenship, a process that can take more than six months as applicants polish their English skills and enhance their knowledge of the country's history and government.

“;It's not a difficult process,”; said Rummery. “;When you become a citizen of another country, you naturally would want to learn everything you can about it. The most difficult part that most people seem to have is learning the English language.”;

Many of the people sworn in during yesterday's ceremony had mixed feelings of relief, excitement and uncertainty, but felt an overall sense of accomplishment.

“;I'm happy in the sense that I can vote and a bit anxious as to what the future will be like for the state and the country,”; said Honolulu resident Antonina Espiritu, who emigrated from the Philippines as a University of Hawaii graduate student 22 years ago, “;but I am excited to be a part of it.”;