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Sunday, March 10, 2019

Welcome to citizenship, Pablo

Pablo Amaya with his citizenship documents. 
Pablo Amaya, the co-owner of PR Performance Fitness in Annandale, said becoming an American citizen was an “amazing” experience that he’s been working toward for several years.

Amaya was one of 165 people who became naturalized U.S. citizens March 8 in a ceremony hosted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIC) at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria. They came from Bangladesh, Egypt, Poland, Kazakhstan, Uganda, Ecuador, and 43 other countries.

Brand-new American citizens.
Amaya, a former member of the El Salvador national soccer team, came to the U.S. in 2004 to play professional soccer. When a knee injury ended his sports career, he applied to stay here under a student visa and become a professional trainer in 2006.

Now that he’s a citizen, Amaya wants to become more involved in the community, and in particular, work with youths at risk of becoming involved in gangs. He plans to share his experiences with young people and steer them into more productive activities like sports.

At the ceremony, immigrants recited the Pledge of Allegiance and the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and waved little American flags, while friends and family members cheered. A contingent of friends and clients from PR Performance Fitness was there to support Amaya.

Many of the applicants had gone through years of struggle to get to that point. Among the requirements to become naturalized, applicants have to be permanent resident for at least five years, be able to read and write English, and pass a test on U.S. history and government.

Sen. Warner urges the new citizens to vote.
“I’m so proud to be an American,” said Melaku, from Ethiopia, after the ceremony. “I’m very happy today,” said Wala, from Jordan.

As soon as they became citizens, they were given the opportunity to immediately register to vote.

“Once you’ve taken that oath and said the Pledge we are all equal,” Sen. Mark Warner told the group. “We all have the same rights and responsibilities.”

Warner urged the new citizens “to participate in our democracy.” Noting that our political debates are more intense and more confrontational of late, he said “no one in American politics has a monopoly on truth or patriotism.”

When listening to politicians, he urged them to “see if their words match their actions” and to “judge the quality of their character.”

“Be sure to vote,” Warner said. “Let your voices be heard.”

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