Immigrants honored with citizenship during ceremony at Belleview Elementary

26 new U.S. citizens hailing from dozens of countries welcomed

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, during a May 9 ceremony at Belleview Elementary School in Centennial, granted citizenship to 26 immigrants hailing from 20 countries. 

Residents currently live in a slew of communities in the Denver metro area and beyond including Aurora, Centennial, Commerce City, Elizabeth, Golden, Highlands Ranch, Lakewood, Parker and Sedalia. 

"It was probably the happiest moment of my life," said Fadilayda Solakkaya, who immigrated from Turkey and now lives in Parker, and is excited to have a passport, vote in elections and help her community. 

Goran Vejvoda, originally from Yugoslavia, has lived in several countries and said being a U.S. citizen "is a privilege." 

"How many places are there in the world where you can speak freely and vote freely and think freely," Vejvoda said. 

New citizens, were joined by friends and family members as well as about 200 3rd, 4th and 5th-grade students. Also in attendance were county and regional leaders who shared their experiences of being an immigrant. 

"Welcome to the land of hope, the land of opportunity," said Arapahoe County Assessor PK Kaiser, who was born in India and gained U.S. citizenship in 2009. "America believes in immigrants." 

Being a citizen comes with liberties and responsibilities, said Kaiser, one of the most important being voting. 

"Make sure you vote in every single election and make sure your voice is getting heard," Kaiser said. 

District Court judge Don J. Toussaint, whose parents immigrated from Haiti to New York and then to New Jersey, where Toussaint was born, spoke of his late father's own immigrant journey and how it reverberates with him today. 

Toussaint said after his father's death in 2020, he found a "treasure trove" of items from his life, among them his citizenship certificate from 1978. 

"From the letters I read, from the letters that he wrote to his brother and sister in Port-au-Prince (Haiti), how much he adored this country and how he wanted to give back to this country," Toussaint said, adding that his father was active in helping other Haitian immigrants and victims of the AIDs pandemic that began in the 1980s. 

Toussaint's father fled a brutal dictatorship in Haiti, Toussaint said, and while he believes his father "didn't want to leave" he knew he had no choice. 

"Now, this country that I love a lot, is not a perfect country obviously," Toussaint said. "But the ideals and the promise that this country holds makes this the perfect promise and perfect dream for millions of people." 

Attendees also heard from the school's 4th-grade choir, who performed as a proud and triumphant chorus with words about the beauty of the U.S.'s immigrant heritage. 

Before taking the Oath of Allegiance and being presented with their certificates, soon-to-be citizens heard a pre-recorded video message from President Joe Biden who celebrated the depth and diversity of the U.S.'s immigrant community.

"America's a big country and it's beautiful in the fact that it is so diverse," Vejvoda said. "Like President Biden said, it's an immigrant country in a very, very profound way. Those people got together to make things better."

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