Neil Sanyal, a native of India, on Tuesday completed a journey from his homeland to the United Kingdom and finally to the United States. After more than 10 years of waiting, Sanyal, now a Stamford resident, can say he is truly an American.
Sanyal was one of nearly 200 immigrants who completed their dream of becoming American citizens on Tuesday afternoon as Fairfield University's Quick Center became an immigration court for the annual naturalization ceremony.
The event was co-sponsored by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS), a division of Homeland Security, and the International Institute of Connecticut, a non-profit organization that helps immigrants, refugees and their families, especially those without the resources to help themselves.
U.S. District Judge Holly Fitzsimmons presided over the swearing-in ceremony at which 190 immigrants from 58 nations took the oath of citizenship. Rev. Rick Ryscavage, a Fairfield U. professor, was the keynote speaker and Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz was also in attendance.
Typically, naturalization proceedings are held in federal courtrooms. But the yearly ceremony at Fairfield University provides a special chance to celebrate the process of becoming an American citizen, said USCIS Hartford Field Officer Director Ethan Enzer. An immigrant is eligible to apply for U.S. naturalization after five years as a permanent resident in good moral standing and after demonstrating proficient English language skills and a general knowledge of U.S. civics.
"Naturalization ceremonies are the happiest occasions that occur in federal court," Fitzsimmons said to the new citizens.
Sanyal, 45, who works for Morgan Stanley in its information technology department, said he was "very excited" to receive a "belated reward," one that he has been waiting for since he moved to Chicago in 1997. He has lived in Stamford since 2002 and said "so far, so good" about his time in America. Now, he looks forward to the responsibilities of being an American citizen.
Danbury resident Juan Nunez, 20, said that only the birth of his daughter a year ago exceeded his happiness and pride at becoming an American. Nunez, who came to the United States 16 years ago when he was 4 from the Dominican Republic, said it "feels good" to have a new start.
Edna Sowah, 40, who came to the United States from Ghana 12 years ago and now lives in West Haven, said the day was "very solemn, but exciting," because it gives new citizens like himself a chance to begin anew in a new country even after so many years here. Sowah immigrated to Connecticut with her husband, Seth, 42, who became a citizen last year.
"Now I can vote!" Edna Sowah said with a bright smile. That specific right of being an American was one that many at the ceremony emphasized.
"In a time of religious and ethnic conflict we must support each other," said Fitzsimmons. "We are all responsible for our country. If it is not perfect, all of us are to blame. We govern ourselves."
Fitzsimmons encouraged the new citizens to vote and "together we can build a better country for our children and our grandchildren."
Bysiewicz said the new citizens chose the right place to start their new lives, because Connecticut was founded by immigrants and its motto, "He Who Transplanted Still Sustains," is perfect for the occasion. "I admire what you have done, you bring enthusiasm, work ethic and new ideas. We need you to participate. Make your voice heard, vote," the secretary of the state told those in the Quick Center.
Ryscavage, an international studies professor, said the naturalization ceremony is about celebrating families as much as the individual. Many of the 190 who became citizens were accompanied by their families and friends, including young children, who as Ryscavage said, "vocalized their congratulations," loudly throughout the ceremony.
Ryscavage also encouraged people to vote, but said there is much more to the responsibilities of a citizen than that.
"It goes deeper than that [voting]. Help create social conditions where everyone can prosper," Ryscavage said, encouraging the newly naturalized Americans to become visual symbols of what is great about America. "Saying `I am an American' holds a great amount of weight in the world," he said.