SALT LAKE CITY — Ten-year-old Jaryd Cueto is grateful to be a brand-new American citizen, but he concedes the adjustment of moving to the United States from Peru recently was not without its challenges.
"It was hard for me to learn English," Jaryd said Thursday, but he credits the example of his hardworking mother for inspiring him to do so.
Dressed up for the occasion in a suit coat and tie, Jaryd was one of about a dozen children on hand Thursday at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' Salt Lake office to ceremoniously begin their new life as American citizens, reciting the oath of allegiance.
"It means — like — a lot to me," said Jaryd, who came to the United States in 2014. He lives with his family in Millcreek and wants to be a soccer player when he grows up. "(It was) a big, big honor."
The other children who picked up their citizenship certificates Thursday were from all around the world: Ethiopia, Iraq, Thailand, Vietnam, Mongolia, China and Mexico.
Just one of them technically needed to be there to recite the oath of allegiance as a prerequisite for citizenship, by virtue of being at least 14 years old, but the others were invited to attend as a way to create a lasting memory with their families, immigration officials explained.
Rose Judd-Murray, who attended with her adopted 12-year-old daughter, Lachlan Murray, said it was a day she would never forget.
"I think the biggest thing for me, when I heard her say the oath, is I know she can do great things," said Judd-Murray, from Providence, Cache County. "The choices she makes can open doors for other people."
Lachlan, who was born in China and was adopted when she was 16 months old, got the chance to meet Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, who spoke at the ceremony.
"I think that was a great opportunity," said Lachlan, a sixth-grader who is interested in becoming a teacher one day.
Asked how becoming a U.S. citizen would empower her in her own life, Lachlan responded it would help her "stand up to people — and support people."
In her remarks, Love praised the parents who had helped their children get to this point in their lives.
"As I look at your parents' faces, I can see the journey, I can see the struggles, I can see the hard work that it has taken them to get you to where you are today," she said.
Love grew slightly emotional as she exhorted the children to use their American citizenship to lift up and help others. She opted for hugs rather than handshakes at the end of her remarks.
"Remember who you are, remember where you come from — and that's the only way you're going to know where you are going," the congresswoman said, a tear streaking down her cheek. "Be proud of being a U.S. citizen. Be proud of it and do everything you can to defend everything that it represents."
She added that, as American citizens, "you have an obligation to care for those who cannot care for themselves (and if) you can use your resources and your talents to help others, then you're obligated to do that."
"Promise that no matter what, if you see someone who needs your help, that you're willing to stand up proudly, with your chin up high, and raise your hand and say 'I will help,'" Love said.
Prior to the ceremony, Love spoke with reporters about her own father's description of becoming an American citizen upon moving to the United States from Haiti.
"I am a daughter of parents who immigrated to this country and that's why I'm here. This is one of the most beautiful events in someone's life, to become a United States citizen," Love said. "Not only was (my father) able to take on the benefits and blessings of being a U.S. citizen, he was willing to take on the responsibilities also, and it was the greatest day of his life."4 comments on this story
Love was asked about Congress' work to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which permits some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States prior to their 16th birthday to work in the country legally. The Trump administration announced in September that the program would be entirely rescinded by March 5, 2018.
Love replied that she has been in touch with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and has "gotten commitment that it's something that we (will) take care of right at the beginning of the year."
"We have to have a fix. I'm determined to have a fix," Love said. "I'm determined to help people who want to be here legally to be able to stay here legally."