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'I feel like I'm starting over': 35 individuals become US citizens in annual ceremony at Centennial Village

Greeley Tribune logo Greeley Tribune 7/2/2022 Anne Delaney, Greeley Tribune, Colo.

Jul. 2—As Karen Salamanca drove to Greeley on Friday morning, she again considered why she wanted to be U.S. citizen.

Salamanca, a 32-year-old born in Colombia and now living in Longmont, was among 35 individuals who became a citizen during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony at Centennial Village Museum.

Salamanca has been in the U.S for 10 years. She lived in Boulder for a while, moved to Florida and returned to Colorado alone with the end of a marriage because she likes living here.

She initially came to the U.S. on an exchange visa, which are nonimmigrant visas for individuals approved to participate in exchange visitor programs, according to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs. Salamanca met her now ex-husband while on the visa, and she faced challenges both in the marriage and the "time consuming" residency step process.

Salamanca attended the outdoor ceremony by herself.

"It's a way of being born again," she said of citizenship. "I feel like I'm starting over. There were a lot of things I was going through. The whole process, the tears, the struggles."

The citizen candidates were natives of 12 countries including Burma, Canada, Italy, Mexico, Somalia, the United Kingdom and Vietnam. They now live in northern Colorado communities from Ault to Berthoud, Evans, Firestone, Greeley, Johnstown, Lochbuie, Milliken, Pierce, Platteville and Windsor.

Naturalization is the way someone not born in the U.S. voluntarily becomes a citizen. The process generally takes about one year to complete and includes: an application, a $640 fee that may be reduced to $320 based on income eligibility and an interview.

For more information on navigating the immigration process, refer to these five tools available on the USCIS website at uscis.gov:

* Ask Emma, our online virtual assistant who can answers questions in English and Spanish and guides you to information on our website. If Emma cannot answer your question, she may connect you to a live chat with an agent.

* Explore your options. Answer a few questions so that uscis.gov can present you with immigration options for which you might be eligible.

* Naturalization eligibility tool. If you're thinking of applying for citizenship, answer some questions using this tool to see if you may be eligible.

* Create an online account. Creating a free online account with USCIS allows you to file online, track your case, submit documents, and ask questions about your case.

* Accurately calculate the fee owed on your petition or application using the Fee Calculator. It will ask questions to help determine your fee. This calculator will always have the most up-to-date fee information.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) partners with High Plains Library District on the Greeley naturalization ceremony, and the organizations have collaborated on the event for at least seven years, according to USCIS public affairs specialist Deborah Cannon.

Cannon wrote in an email the U.S. agency recently renewed its partnership agreement with the Institute of Museum and Library Services to promote naturalization opportunities for immigrants seeking or eligible for U.S. citizenship. Cannon said the institute found that more than 55% of new Americans use a public library at least once a week.

"IMLS said libraries are a trusted environment with resources and community connections that can ease the way to full participation in American society," Cannon wrote.

The agency, with its local office in Centennial, hosts naturalization ceremonies at national parks, at schools, the Denver History Museum and at other historic locations.

The approximately 45-minute ceremony featured remarks from local, state and national-level officials, or their representatives as was the case for U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Ken Buck — all of whom dispatched aides to deliver a message.

The Greeley City Council was represented by Johnny Olson and Tommy Butler, with Butler giving a short speech. State Rep. Mary Young was scheduled to attend, but did not come because of illness. Young sent her husband, state treasurer Dave Young, who is running for re-election this fall.

Gov. Jared Polis, also up for re-election, addressed the ceremony attendees through a video message. Buck, representing the reconfigured 4th Congressional District, won a Republican primary earlier this week and will face Ike McCorkle in the general election in the fall. While Bennet missed the naturalization ceremony, it was announced he'll be in Greeley for the 4th of July parade on Monday.

A common theme communicated to the new citizens by the elected officials, as well as articulated by High Plains Library District executive director Matthew Hortt, was encouraging them to vote. And not only to vote, but to become involved in their communities and educated about the processes.

"Through your experience I know you've developed your own voice," Hortt said. "I encourage you to share it and to be active and to vote."

The right to vote is the top reason on the USCIS website for why an individual should consider U.S. citizenship. Only citizens can vote in federal elections, the website says. Most states also restrict the right to vote in most elections to U.S. citizens.

Windsor resident Luanne Kappel has lived in the U.S. for more than 30 years. Born in Zambia, Kappel grew up in South Africa and held citizenship from the United Kingdom though she never lived there. Because of this, she considers herself "a citizen of the world."

She graduated from Colorado State and the University of Colorado. From CU, Kappel earned a nursing degree. She's an ICU nurse at UCHealth Greeley Hospital. Kappel and her husband, Brad, have been married for almost 31 years.

Brad Kappel and others wore matching red, white and blue tie-dye t-shirts at Friday's ceremony in support of Luanne, who decided to become a citizen because she wanted the right to vote. Kappel said she also values the right to free speech to express one's opinion.

"I think it's what I love most is the right to vote," Kappel said, adding the tumultuous times and political division didn't tempt her to reconsider citizenship. "This is not a great time. But, part of democracy is it's messy and it's supposed to be messy."

(c)2022 the Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Colo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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