59 Refugees become US Citizens in California Ceremony

Fifty-nine people gained US citizenship in Fresno, California, in a naturalization ceremony held specifically for refugees, according to the Fresno Bee.

While the Fresno branch of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) holds citizenship ceremonies every month, the most recent was the first of its kind in the area to feature only refugees, instead of a mix of permanent residents. The path to US citizenship was a long one for many of the the participants, the newspaper reports.

For 84-year-old Sonn Ke, it took 31 years of living in the US before she could finally attain citizenship. The Cambodian refugee came to the US in 1980 with her six children after living in the Khoa I Dang refugee camp in Thailand. Although her children were all eventually naturalized, the news source said Ke’s struggle to learn English kept her from qualifying for citizenship.

However, immigration rules requiring English fluency were softened this year for refugees over age 50 who have lived in the US for more than 20 years, allowing Ke to apply for citizenship.

“I’m happy to become a citizen,” she said in her native Khmer language, which her son translated. “I don’t want to go back to Cambodia.”

Those admitted to the US as refugees are required to apply for a green card after a year of living in the country, according to USCIS. Like other foreigners, they must be permanent residents for five years before qualifying for US citizenship.