SALT LAKE CITY — To apply for citizenship in the United States, applicants must meet eligibility requirements like speaking English and completing a naturalization process, including interviews and a civics test.
For Luis and Raquel Mejia, from Mexico, the process could not finish quickly enough.
The couple was among 125 applicants sworn in as new U.S. citizens Tuesday during a naturalization ceremony at the state Capitol.
"I’m so excited, I’m so nervous and it’s so beautiful," Raquel Mejia said as she brushed tears away after the event.
She started her paperwork more than 20 years ago, starting with a petition submitted by her brother and convincing her husband to apply for citizenship with her.
She remembered the first time her husband received his green card.
"He said, 'Is it real? Is it real? I don't believe it. Pinch me, pinch me, is it real?'" Mejia recounted, grinning at her husband.
Every year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services approves about 700,000 to 750,000 citizens at naturalization ceremonies across the nation.
The new citizens welcomed on Tuesday came from 50 countries, including Mexico, Kenya, Chile, China, Vietnam, Peru and Lebanon.
Tevita Fale met his wife, Kim Kimball Fale, in Utah. They lived between homes in Utah and his home country, Tonga, for almost 20 years before moving to Hawaii and then back to Utah.
The main reason they came to Utah, the couple agreed, was to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
"We’ve been able to really take the best of not only both cultures and worlds but best of family traits and bring them together," said Kim Fale, who is a U.S. citizen.
However, Tevita Fale was hesitant to apply for U.S. citizenship because he owned property in Tonga.
"I didn’t think I needed it," he said. "Now I can have dual citizenship. I can have property here and also in Tonga."
"This is a major change for us. I never thought it would happen," his wife added.
At the naturalization ceremony, state Rep. Norman Thurston, R-Provo, recognized that some new citizens came to the United States to escape problems in home countries, specifically mentioning the contentious elections in Kenya.
"While the United States is a pretty good place to be,” he said, "it’s not without problems either."
He encouraged the new citizens to register as voters and stay involved in their communities.
"And when we do that," he said, "the system works."
Dalila Marini, from Guatemala, couldn't keep from smiling after the ceremony. Although she admitted to missing her family, food and traditions back in her home country, Marini said she is happy to stay for new opportunities in the U.S.1 comment on this story
"The president of the United States is my president now," she said. "Really, I love President Trump."
Rafael Caceres, from Peru, remembered coming to the United States and struggling to find a job and speak the language. He was grateful for his mother's support as he applied for citizenship.
"The reason why I came here is because I thought that it will be the best place to achieve my dream in life," he said. "I accomplished many things that I didn’t know I could accomplish until today."