WOODBINE — A loud cheer erupted from the borough’s municipal hall Wednesday morning following a naturalization ceremony for 19 new U.S. citizens.
The ceremony, led by Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez, included people from Bangladesh, Belarus, Bulgaria, China, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Lithuania, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, Romania and Russia.
“It was a smooth process,” said Gregg Morais, one of the naturalized citizens from Jamaica. “When you file everything on time and do everything that’s required, it’s smooth.”
Morais said he became a naturalized citizen because he has family members who are already citizens.
The ceremony was part of the annual Law Day celebration around the country and was the sixth naturalization ceremony hosted in the Atlantic/Cape May area. Every year, area towns rotate hosting a naturalization ceremony in Atlantic County and Cape May County.
“We’re very grateful that Judge Mendez chose Woodbine this year,” Mayor William Pikolycky said.
During the past decade, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalized more than 7.4 million citizens, according to government data. Every year, about 700,000 to 750,000 people are naturalized in the United States.
New Jersey has the fifth-highest amount of people who are in the naturalizing process, according to the data.
The eligibility requirements include being 18 years old, having a green card, having knowledge of U.S. government history, and being willing to take the Oath of Allegiance.
The Oath of Allegiance requires the naturalized citizens to “renounce and abjure” all allegiance to foreign nations that they previously lived in.
The ceremony rekindled memories of naturalized citizens of their first arrival to America.
“When I first came to America — in the city of Detroit — all I had was two suitcases and a rice cooker,” said Ya-Mei Chen, director of the New Jersey USCIS Field Office in Mount Laurel.
Alex Barrera, president of the Atlantic County Bar Association, said his father traveled to Washington, D.C., from Ecuador to buy a 1967 Ford Mustang and ended up working in a hotel in Atlantic City. He then met his future wife and decided to legally stay in the country, Barrera said.
Mendez also briefly recounted his immigration story.
“I came here in March 1974 and it changed my life for the better,” he said.