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2017-09-20 / Featured / Front Page

Henricus Park welcomes a new crop of Americans

BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER

At the naturalization ceremony at Henricus Historical Park, immigrants from across the globe became U.S. citizens. Top: Perpetual Appiah from Ghana celebrates her citizenship. Left: Nearly 60 immigrants take the Oath of Allegiance. Right: Susan and Safwat Shehata from Egypt pose for a photo as U.S. citizens. Photos by James Haskins At the naturalization ceremony at Henricus Historical Park, immigrants from across the globe became U.S. citizens. Top: Perpetual Appiah from Ghana celebrates her citizenship. Left: Nearly 60 immigrants take the Oath of Allegiance. Right: Susan and Safwat Shehata from Egypt pose for a photo as U.S. citizens. Photos by James Haskins Safwat Shehata is proud to be an American. A former citizen of Egypt, Shehata, a Coptic Christian, said he brought his family to America in 2005 for fear of religious persecution from Islamic extremists back home.

Ever since the Shehatas came to the United States, they’ve done well for themselves. Shehata recently bought his first house in America. His son, Fady, is studying pharmacology at Virginia Commonwealth University, and his 17-year-old daughter, Kareen, is a freshman in VCU’s engineering school. 

And last Thursday, Midlothian’s Shehata family had even more good fortune when Safwat and his wife, Susan, became naturalized American citizens during a ceremony at Henricus Historical Park. 

Set against the Dutch Gap portion of the James River as boats slid by, the ceremony saw 59 immigrants from across the globe take the Oath of Allegiance under a bright, overcast sky. Amid a heated national political climate, especially surrounding undocumented immigrants, the ceremony represented a reprieve of sorts: a happy occasion welcoming people from all over the world, bonded by the promise of America.Cecilia Anaya Bergman and others at the naturalization ceremony last week. JAMES HASKINSCecilia Anaya Bergman and others at the naturalization ceremony last week. JAMES HASKINS

“When you love your country, you will find a real love with yourself,” beamed Safwat after the ceremony. “I stay in my country. What’s my country? The USA.”

Susan was also all smiles.

“She feels very happy,” Safwat said. “She’s shining today, and I like it.”

The ceremony was presided over by Judge Roderick C. Young of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Young told those assembled that America was a country primarily made of immigrants, and America would rely on these new citizens to help further the country’s aims and ideals.

“What you bring will become as much a part of American culture as the proverbial apple pie. It goes without saying that you have worked diligently to arrive here today, and many of you have made difficult choices,” Young said. “Generations of others have given America what you give to us today – the gift of bringing the best of your birthplace to our country.”

Posing with his family, Abdul Rahamon Mohammed from Ghana shows off his certificate of naturalization. JAMES HASKINSPosing with his family, Abdul Rahamon Mohammed from Ghana shows off his certificate of naturalization. JAMES HASKINSFollowing the Oath of Allegiance, each new citizen walked up to the podium to receive their naturalization certificate and shake Young’s hand.

Cecilia Anaya Bergman, a native of Argentina, said she didn’t think she’d end up in the United States when she first came here on a one-year research contract. Fifteen years later, she is a senior pathology specialist at VCU’s Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory and lives in Henrico.

“I’m so happy to be a citizen,” Anaya Bergman said. “I have work [here], I have family. I’m very happy to be here.”

Danielle Carson, a native of Australia who’s lived in the United States for 22 years, said the recent actions on immigration by the Trump administration prompted her to become a citizen. Carson moved to the United States after marrying an American soldier. Previous to becoming a citizen, Carson was a green card holder.

When Trump issued his Jan. 27 travel ban executive order – referred to by some as a “Muslim ban” – there was initial confusion about how it would affect green card holders, with some detained at airports for several hours. Carson says the executive order is why she became a citizen.

“With Trump in office right now, it’s just too unpredictable,” said Carson, a mental health therapist with two American-born children who lives on Virginia’s Northern Neck. “Nothing’s going to come between me and my kids.” ¦

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