New citizens take oath of allegiance in Macon

awomack@macon.comMarch 20, 2012 

GRANT BLANKENSHIP/ Chritiana Ernest, 89, originally from Haiti, left, celebrates with her daughter Mona Thoringgton after taking the oath of citizenship Tuesday at the Bootle Federal Courthouse in Macon. Below, new citizens take the oath.

Sonia Balocco left Honduras as a toddler.

Badly burned in a fire, doctors in Boston were willing to perform reconstructive surgery on the 18-month-old for free.

Her mother, who also was injured in the fire, wasn’t able to care for her. She was taken in by a nursing student and her husband, who served as her guardians as she underwent additional surgeries while staying in the country on a visa.

Raised in Fort Lauderdale, Balocco had many of the benefits of growing up in America.

“But it was weird when I turned 18 and wanted to vote and I couldn’t,” she said Tuesday.

Now 27, Balocco became an American citizen Tuesday after swearing an oath of allegiance to the United States during a ceremony at the federal courthouse in Macon.

She was one of 39 people from 26 countries who recited the oath and were awarded citizenship during a short ceremony.

While nearly a third of the new citizens originally hailed from India, others came from Africa, Asia, Europe, Central America, South America, Canada and Mexico.

The ceremony was held in Macon for the first time in several years. In recent years, naturalization ceremonies for new citizens have been held in Atlanta. Judge Clay Land started holding ceremonies at the federal courthouse in Columbus three years ago, U.S. District Clerk Gregory Leonard said.

From now on, ceremonies in Columbus and Macon will be held yearly, providing more opportunities for new citizens to be sworn in, Leonard said.

To become a citizen, a person must be a permanent U.S. resident for five years and undergo testing and background checks, said Ana Santiago, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman.

Citizenship applicants must pass a test with a knowledge of American history and civics. Applicants are required to have a passable ability to read, write and speak the English language. They also must pass a FBI background check, Santiago said.

On average, it takes between four and five months for an applicant to go through the process and be sworn in as a new citizen, she said.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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