Matt Schickling and Jack Firneno, the Wire
A 21-year-old from Mali walked down the dirt path at Pennsbury Manor with certain pride. After eight years living in the United States, he became a citizen.
“I wanted to be part of this country, this community. If there’s anything I can provide as a citizen — physically, mentally, spiritually, my votes — I want to do it,” Hassane Yarra said.
The path wasn’t easy for Yarra. He left a tumultuous country for one where he spent a lot of time bouncing around foster homes guided by a local government social service agency.
Now, he’s a graduate finance student at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s about as “American Dream” as a story can get.
Forty-nine others joined him in gaining citizenship at a special naturalization ceremony held on the historic grounds last Thursday. This is the third straight year Pennsbury Manor has hosted such ceremonies.
At the time it started in 2014, naturalization ceremonies outside a courthouse were not as common. In recent years more ceremonies have been held at meaningful sites and landmarks across the country, Pennsbury Manor site director Doug Miller said.
Doing it this way highlights freedom of religion, representative government and other ideals William Penn, the original resident of Pennsbury Manor, championed.
Last week, the participants hailed from 20 different countries, including Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, People’s Republic of China, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Iraq, Liberia, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Sudan, Thailand, Ukraine and Vietnam.
“None of us would be here if our ancestors didn’t make the same decision you’re making today,” U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe said in opening the ceremony.
She presided over the ceremony alongside fellow U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg and Chief Magistrate Judge Linda Caracappa. All three live in Bucks County.
Dr. Deepika Chhabri, formerly of India, spoke on behalf of the new citizens. Her remarks centered around the difficult path to American citizenship.
“I’m sure most of us have waited at least 10 to 15 years to become American citizens,” she said.
Her own reason for coming to the United States was education. Chhabri left India to attend a doctorate program in physics at the University of Missouri.
“America is a country where people from all backgrounds, cultures, religions and races are welcomed,” she added. “The feeling for me in a completely new country, where I had no relatives or friends, was enough for me to feel at home.”
She applied for her green card in 2002, received it in 2010 and became a citizen finally that day at Pennsbury Manor.
She is now an assistant professor of physics at the Lehigh Valley Carbon Community College in Schwenksville.
In 2015, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services welcomed 728,995 citizens during naturalization ceremonies across the nation. That year, in Pennsylvania, 18,307 citizens were naturalized.
“Now that I look back at all the struggles that my family and I have gone through, it seems worth it,” Chhabri said. “It makes me proud to say that I am a U.S. citizen.”