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52 Become Citizens on 4th of July

July 4, 1999

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) _ In a morning ceremony drenched with sun and patriotism, 52 men and women from 49 nations around the globe became citizens of the United States on Sunday, the 223rd anniversary of the first Independence Day.

The Washington Monument, rising from just beyond the Potomac, was a silent but eloquent witness as the potential citizens fanned off the humidity and heat with their paper programs.

``I have lived in the United States for 19 years and I took time to decide to be a U.S. citizen and this is the very best decision of my life,″ said Carmen Aguilar, a native of Venezuela.

The Freedom Forum, an international nonpartisan and international press freedom and free-speech institution, was the host of the ceremony in Freedom park, a skybridge above the streets of Arlington with views of the Potomac and the Washington skyline.

The symbols and words of American citizenship paraded by: a color guard, the flag with ``broad stripes and bright stars.″ Strings of colored balloons. The invocations of the names of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin.

``We celebrate the long journey you have made and will continue to make as U.S. citizens,″ said Freedom Forum president Peter Pritchard.

The names of the nations being left behind by the new citizens were read, beginning with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bulgaria, continuing through Guatemala, Guyana and India and ending with Ukraine, Venezuela and Vietnam.

Then the oath, forswearing allegiance to all others, vowing to ``support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.″

``This is a big, big day for me,″ said Diana Leckie of the Philippines, who heads the Freedom Forum’s international division and who celebrate her new citizenship with a sparkly flag pin pinned to her cream-colored coat.

In 1995, the Immigration and Naturalization Service reported that nearly 46 percent of the 350,000 immigrants who were admitted to the United States in 1977 had become citizens.

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