The Los Angeles Convention Center was packed. The front rows were taken by those who would be sworn in as citizens, waving small American flags during the entire ceremony. Behind them were their parents, spouses and kids. They waved digital cameras and cell phones as they documented the event.
Even the presiding judge was moved to take a picture of what faced him: a sea of a few thousand people.
Aside from being given a naturalization certificate, these new citizens got a quick education on patriotism. They recited the Pledge of Allegiance, sang along to the national anthem and watched a video featuring President Barack Obama.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to call you a fellow citizen of the United States of America," Obama says during the video. "This is now officially your country, your home to protect, to defend and to serve through active and engaged citizenship."
“The top five countries that we see here of course are Mexico, with the Philippines being second, then China, Vietnam and El Salvador," said Nancy Alby, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office director for L.A. County.
On this day, 2,000 Mexicans were sworn in as U.S. citizens, followed by 850 Filipinos. But there were also 400 Iranians and almost 300 Cambodians, two nationalities that hadn’t been seen much at these naturalization ceremonies in the past few years.
Immigration officials say the people getting sworn in are likely family members of those who came during earlier migration waves. They also say that in presidential election years like this one, various community groups make a greater effort to encourage immigrants to become citizens so they can vote.
Once the ceremony ended, the new citizens lined up to receive their newly minted naturalization certificates, then headed outside to meet family.
A young man who gave his name as J.T. said he became a citizen here 10 years ago. Today, he came to see his elderly parents become citizens, too. It took his parents a lot less time to get through the system, he said.
“We’re from India, and the process takes about six months approximately," said J.T. on behalf of his parents, who have some difficulty speaking English. "It used to take a lot longer, but it’s faster now. Even though it’s expensive, but it’s worth spending that much money.”
He spent a total of $1,300 to apply for his parents’ citizenship. But once they get their new U.S. passports, they’ll be able to travel back and forth from India with a lot less hassle.