Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

At local naturalization ceremony, one refugee dreams of citizenship

TAMPA — Twenty-five grinning people raised their right hands on cue, renouncing fidelity to foreign sovereignties, so help them God. The church auditorium erupted in applause.

In the back of the room, a man with his hands at his sides watched, smiling and tearing up a little.

Someday he'll know what it feels like. He'll take the tests and the oath and he hopes, become a United States citizen.

"It's like the dream of buying a new house," said Mukhallad Al Agelli, an Iraqi refugee who watched a naturalization ceremony in Tampa on Saturday. "Now, you feel like you are renting, but someday you will have a new house. And you will be safe. And it will be your home."

• • •

At ceremonies in Tampa and Largo, refugees from about a dozen countries became U.S. citizens as part of World Refugee Day. Almost 17,400 refugees have settled in the Tampa Bay area in the last five years, according to the Tampa Bay Refugee Task Force.

Saturday was the first time the bay area's Refugee Day celebrations included citizenship ceremonies, said Kathy Redman, a district director for the U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Office.

"This is the ultimate goal," Redman said.

At the Largo Public Library, two dozen people were naturalized. Daryl Quinn, 30, who lives in Bradenton but was born in England, waited years to take the oath.

"We have opportunity in England," Quinn said. "But I think the opportunities are better in the land of opportunity."

About 100 people attended Tampa's ceremony at the Oak Grove United Methodist Church on W Waters Avenue, and 25 became citizens. In the audience were Haitians flown to Tampa after the country's devastating January earthquake, immigrants who were naturalized in previous ceremonies, and refugees still waiting for a chance.

• • •

Agelli left Iraq almost a year ago after six months of negotiating with the U.S. Embassy.

The 27-year-old had recently graduated and was working as a general-practice doctor in an Iraq hospital, but seeing so much of the war's carnage and death made him want to leave, he said.

"I was traumatized," Agelli said.

Agelli arrived in Florida in August 2009. With help from the refugee task force, he settled in Pasco County and got a job as an Arabic interpreter for local hospitals.

Because the U.S. doesn't recognize his Iraqi medical degree, he will apply for a fellowship at the American College of Surgeons. He said he studies at least five hours a day.

In his free time, Agelli brushes up on American history and geography. He won't be eligible to take his citizenship test for four more years, but he wants to be ready.

"This is my dream," Agelli said.

He also serves as chairman of the task force's refugee advisory panel — a liaison between refugees and those who provide resources. On Saturday, he stood with task force members as the newly confirmed U.S. citizens received their certificates.

Agelli handed each one a U.S. Citizen's Almanac.

• • •

In a videotaped message, President Barack Obama congratulated the new Americans. "You have the opportunity to enrich this country," Obama said. "I am proud to welcome you."

They sang songs: The Star-Spangled Banner, I'm Proud to be an American and You're a Grand Old Flag.

New citizen Sonia Archila, 33, from Colombia, called it "a dream come true."

For 32-year-old Herbert Makola from Liberia, "Now the sky is the limit."

Maja Milosevec, 19, from Bosnia-Herzegovina, is "excited about getting to vote."

They waved little American flags and posed for pictures as Agelli smiled from beside the stage.

The room quieted and everyone — U.S. citizens, refugees and those in between — put their hands over their hearts.

"I pledge allegiance …"

Times staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386.

At local naturalization ceremony, one refugee dreams of citizenship 06/19/10 [Last modified: Saturday, June 19, 2010 9:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Study: Florida has fourth-most competitive tax code

    Banking

    Florida's tax code is the fourth most competitive in the country, according to a study released Tuesday by nonprofit group Tax Foundation.

    Florida has the fourth-most competitive tax code, a study by the Tax Foundation said. Pictured is  Riley Holmes, III, H&R Block tax specialist, helping a client with their tax return in April. | [SCOTT KEELER, Times]
  2. A punter is the state's only first-team, midseason All-American

    Blogs

    Here's another indictment of how mediocre the state's college football season has become.

  3. Fred Ridley on the Road to Augusta

    Blogs

    Last week, I sat down with Fred Ridley, the new chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. Ridley, a lawyer who has resided in Tampa since 1981, was the 1975 U.S. Amateur champion and is the only Chairman to have played in the Masters. I wrote a long story on Ridley, but here are some of the other …

    Fred Ridley, looks on during the Green Jacket Ceremony during the final round of the 2017 Masters Tournament in April at Augusta National Golf Club.
  4. Tampa police link two shootings, tell Seminole Heights residents to avoid walking alone

    Crime

    TAMPA — One was a 22-year-old African American man. The other was a 32-year-old white woman.

    A small memorial sits in the grassy lot on East Orleans Avenue in Seminole Heights where 32-year-old Monica Hoffa's body was found Friday. Hoffa had been shot to death, and Tampa police say they believe her killing is related to the shooting death of Benjamin Edward Mitchell, 22, at a bus stop near N 15th Street and E Frierson Avenue on Oct. 9. There are no clear motives, however, and police have asked to residents to be on the lookout for anything suspicious and avoid traveling alone at night. JONATHAN CAPRIEL/Times staff
  5. Pinellas Sheriff deputies T. Festa, left, and J. Short, righ,t arrest suspect Christopher Parsells, Pinellas Park, early Tuesday as part of a joint roundup of unlicensed contractors. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]