Ellie Ngoc Nguyen, from Vietnam, poses with a cardboard cutout of President Barack Obama after becoming a new United States citizen Tuesday in Pomona. Some
Ellie Ngoc Nguyen, from Vietnam, poses with a cardboard cutout of President Barack Obama after becoming a new United States citizen Tuesday in Pomona. Some 4, 400 people attended the citizenship ceremony. (Nick Ut/AP Photo)

Photo gallery: Thousands take oath for U.S. citizenship in Pomona


POMONA - Just as the nation is divided on immigration reform, so were the viewpoints of some of the more than 4,400 Southern Californians who came to Fairplex on Tuesday to take the Oath of Allegiance and became U.S. citizens.

Residents of seven counties gathered in Building 4 for two naturalization ceremonies conducted by the federal government's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Los Angeles District Office.

The day, some said, represented a huge achievement.

"It's like you're born again," said Burbank resident Shak Ebli who came to the U.S. from Iran about 5<MD+,%30,%55,%70>1/<MD-,%0,%55,%70>2 years ago. "Most people don't understand how you feel."

Sina Afamasaga, a native of Samoa now living in Anaheim, said becoming a U.S. citizen "means everything It means a new life."

The ceremonies took place hours before President Barack Obama delivered an address in Las Vegas outlining his immigration reform plan and a day after a bipartisan group of senators presented their own proposal in Washington, D.C.

Some on Tuesday viewed immigration reform and efforts to legalize illegal immigrants as something positive but others saw it as something that rewards those who did not play by the rules.

Ebli said getting to the U.S. was not an easy feat.

The process that led to authorizing his entry into the United States required three trips to Dubai and the American consulate there. There is no such office in Iran, he said.

Facilitating the immigration process for those in the U.S. illegally isn't fair to those who have waited and gone through all the required steps, Ebli said.

Those who come here illegally probably faced difficult circumstances that prompted them to take the route they chose.

"There are so many troubles. It's really hard to do it like that but it's cutting ahead of the line," he said.

Jake Peralta of Glendale, who came to the U.S. from the Philippines six years ago, said educational and career opportunities have opened up for him in this country, and he hopes to advance even more.

But he has concerns about immigration reform.

"We have been through the process and waited years and years" to comply with it, he said.

Illegal immigrants "should at least go through the process and not cut ahead of the line," Peralta said.

Tharita Mulroney, who attended the ceremony with her husband, actor Dermot Mulroney, said Tuesday's ceremony represented the end of a long process.

The native of Italy came to the U.S. with a student visa 15 years ago, she said.

Some time after arriving she was offered a promising job opportunity.

"It was the land of opportunity, and I decided to stay," she said.

She saw a lawyer who helped her negotiate the road to permanent residency.

"It was a long process to get a green card," she said, but it was one she handled alone and long before she was married.

It was a lengthy and expensive process, Dermot Mulroney said.

"It took her 14 years and $50,000. It makes me wonder how someone without those means can do it," he said.

Tharita Mulroney said she's happy she was able to go through the appropriate channels in the immigration process.

Others may not have the same opportunity, and she's not one to condemn them.

"It's not for me to judge because everyone has their journey," she said.

Eduardo Ramirez of Moreno Valley, who came to the United States 32 years ago from Mexico, said immigration reform is necessary to give those who entered the country illegally a chance to move ahead and prosper.

Being in the country illegally brings with it challenges and makes it impossible to have something as important as a driver's license, he said.

"I too was illegal once. I went through the same thing they did," he said in Spanish.

It was through the amnesty program of the Reagan administration that he obtained permanent residency. 

Immigration reform presents a much-needed opportunity.

"There are many of us who value this opportunity," Ramirez said.

Matilde Barrando Hernandez of Los Angeles came to the United State 18 years ago from Guatemala.

"This is a great day, a very special day," she said in Spanish.

When she came to the United States 18 years ago "like many others I came with a suitcase full of hopes," Barrando Hernandez said.

She found opportunities and the peace that didn't exist in what was then a war-torn Guatemala.

As a citizen Barrando Hernandez said she looks forward to voting and being involved in the community.

"Perhaps helping out institutions even if it's through (volunteer) service," she said.

Illegal immigrants should have a chance to achieve their dreams just as those who arrived legally, Barrando Hernandez said.

They "are in need of everything and in need of good opportunities," she said. "They are making contribution through hard work and by paying taxes."

monica.rodriguez@inlandnewspapers.com, 909-483-9336, @PomonaNow


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