On the anniversary of Missouri's statehood — Aug. 10, 1821 — the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri in Jefferson City held a naturalization ceremony for 10 new citizens coming from eight different countries.
Officials at the U.S. Courthouse on Lafayette Street said they had originally planned to hold a double ceremony in March at the Missouri National Guard's Ike Skelton Training Center, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those events were canceled. Monday afternoon's event was the first naturalization ceremony held by the court this year.
The 10 new citizens gathered in the lobby of the courthouse Monday, wearing face masks and standing far apart from each other to meet social-distancing requirements. Family members were not allowed to be in the lobby but could watch from outside; however, there were none on hand.
"We've never done this before," U.S. District Judge Willie Epps Jr. told the new citizens. "I do know that we are a better country because of your citizenship. I know the best is yet to come for you all."
Among the 10 new citizens was Sera Chiuchiarelli, of Columbia, who was born in Canada and has been in the United States since July 2014. She said one of the reasons she wanted to become a citizen was to exercise her right to vote.
"My husband is American, so now we'll be able to travel a lot easier," Chiuchiarelli said. "There was a lot of work to do to make this all happen, but it was worth it."
Liliane Nabhan, of Columbia, was born in Lebanon and has been living in the United States for five years.
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"I applied only one time and was able to get through to get the citizenship," Nabhan said. "U.S.A. is the land of opportunity, and I have three boys — and as you know, Lebanon is going through a very hard time now, so we decided to come here for new opportunities and a better future for us and for our children."
Nasser Yazdani, of Columbia, was born in Iran and said the U.S. citizenship process took three years for him to complete. He has been living in the United States for four years, and Monday marked the anniversary of when he arrived in this country.
"It means a lot to me," Yazdani said. "I'm married to an American. Now I can contribute to this country."