While lawmakers were preparing for the marathon process of passing the state budget, six immigrants were welcomed as new U.S. citizens on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives on Thursday morning.
They hailed from six countries: American Samoa, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Nepal and the Philippines.
Two of the new citizens wore their military uniforms. The others had served in a branch of the military or had family who served in the U.S. military, according to U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services.
The naturalization ceremony is the last step in an extensive process of obtaining U.S. citizenship for certain immigrants.
Heloisa King, born in Brazil, swayed and sang as a video played of “God Bless the U.S.A.” The video showed naturalization ceremonies held at different National Parks and venues in the country. It ended with the words “Welcome new citizens.”
King said it was an honor to become a U.S. citizen.
“I’m really happy, it’s been a long time coming,” she said.
King arrived in the country in 1997 to study English, and then earned a scholarship to attend the University in Wisconsin, she said, which allowed her to obtain a student visa. After graduating, King – like all immigrants with a student visa who graduate from a U.S. college or university – had a year to find an employer in the U.S. who would sponsor her work visa. If they don’t, they have to leave the country or continue studying.
King was hired at U.S. Bank, which sponsored her immigration papers, she said. She then met her husband, John, at church and married in 2007. John is in the U.S. Army Reserves.
“I feel blessed with my story, and how God just opened doors so easily,” she said.
Nearby, Chrisel Joy Huntzinger sat with a bouquet of flowers tinted in red, white and blue by her side. She arrived in the U.S. from the Philippines in 2012 because she “found love.”
“It’s like having a new home. I am very blessed to be part of this country,” Huntizinger said. Her two-year-old son stood next to her, holding four little American flags in his hand. “I found love here.”
House Speaker Rusty Bowers closed the naturalization ceremony with a brief speech. He said he was honored to be part of the event, and shared a story about a moment when he was traveling through Mexico and was held by “people who wanted to kill me.”
“Through a miracle, one of them took me from the others and took me to my vehicle,” Bowers said, with pause. “I remember coming into the port of entry, how grateful I was to be back where I had rights, and how grateful I was to be a citizen of the United States of America.”
That story resonated with John, Heloisa’s husband.
“I’ve been to five different continents, there’s no place like the United States,” he said.
Heloisa held their two-year-old son, Joshua, in her arms. He pointed to elephant on a lawmaker’s desk and spoke in Portuguese.
She added being a citizen gave her “peace in my heart.”
“If something should happen to him, being an American… I feel safer now than before,” she said.
Her naturalization process took 16 months, she said. Naturalization applications processed in Phoenix take between 17 and 20 months to complete, according to USCIS’s processing times calculator.