COLUMBUS — Families gathered on the stage inside the Central Community College-Columbus Fine Arts Theater, waving small American flags.
The word "congratulations" came up more than once.
Twenty-nine immigrants became United States citizens Wednesday during the naturalization ceremony at the local college.
Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce President K.C. Belitz reminded audience members about the important role immigrants have in America, despite all the recent "noise" on the topic.
“This country has always been a country of immigrants,” Belitz said. “And that will never change."
CCC-C President Matt Gotschall also spoke about the importance of immigration and his appreciation for those coming to the community.
“Today we look back on our own ancestry,” Gotschall said. “The oath that will be pledged today was written in 1790. It encourages us all to spread liberty and justice all over the world."
Gotschall encouraged the new citizens to be engaged by serving their communities, employers and families and offered his congratulations.
“We’re here to help if you need it,” he added.
After receiving his certificate, Marshall Leslie, originally of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, helped end the ceremony by leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I’ve been in the States since 1999,” Leslie said. “I wanted to gain citizenship in order to vote in the next election.”
The same was true for Tong Fang from China.
"I hope to be able to vote someday,” Fang said. “But I am proud. This was mostly an important achievement.”
Other immigrants changed their citizenship for family reasons.
Lazaro Sanchez, originally from Mexico, has been in the United States for 30 years.
“I used to live in Juarez, but I moved to Dakota City 30 years ago,” Sanchez said. “By becoming an American citizen, I know this will make it easier for me to travel back and forth to see my family.”
Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf said the nation has plenty to boast about.
“It is customary to speak with our immigrants about how wonderful the United States is,” Kopf said. “We should be thankful for the immigrants for helping to make us even better. What would Boston be without the Irish brogue? What would Milwaukee be without its German food? Wouldn’t Miami be a boring expanse of sand without the Cubans? We know you will enrich this nation and I say to you, thank you.”
Belitz shared similar thoughts.
“These immigrants add their strength and talent to our community and nation as a whole,” he said. “They add strengths to our local melting pot. I know they will continue to strengthen our nation with this oath and with their next steps toward their futures."