They came from five continents, 12 countries and myriad backgrounds.
But on Tuesday, the 26 immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines, Canada, Guatemala, Ukraine, India, Kenya, Cuba, Uganda and China had one thing in common — they became Americans in a Richland courtroom.
Dr. Kemunto Kakumba, 45, came to the United States from Kenya 22 years ago to study medicine.
Now a Richland family practice physician, she says she decided to stay because of the opportunities she’s found.
“This is like nothing else in the world, and I’ve done a fair bit of traveling,” she said. “America is the land of freedom.”
Luis Miramontes, 29, was brought to the United States illegally when he was 5.
“It’s been very difficult to live in a country where you’re not wanted,” said the Pasco resident, who was born in Mexico and lived for years in California. “Every move that you make, you have to be cautious.”
Despite having other skills, he could take only “cash jobs,” including as a migrant farmworker.
Sometimes, he wishes everybody could go through what he did, so they better appreciate being a citizen.
“It’s awesome,” he said after Tuesday’s ceremony. “It’s the ultimate. The sky’s the limit now.”
U.S. District Court Judge Sal Mendoza Jr. presided over his first solo naturalization ceremony Tuesday by greeting the immigrants and 40 audience members, with “ Buenos dias!”
He told them that he was the son of a migrant worker as a child, and rose to become a federal judge. America has allowed him to achieve his dreams, but he also advised the new citizens to keep the customs and traditions of their home countries.
“We are happy that you are joining our country,” he said. “We are happy that those traditions will now be part of the fabric of our country.”
Mendoza presented each new American with naturalization certificates. Each also had the opportunity to register to vote with representatives from the Benton and Franklin auditors’ offices.
It was Mendoza’s second time leading a naturalization ceremony at the federal courthouse in Richland since he was sworn in last August. The first time, he shared the duties with Senior Judge Ed Shea, whom Mendoza replaced on the federal bench.
Yurij Rudensky, a staff attorney for Mendoza, also spoke Tuesday about his experience coming to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1990.
He became a citizen five years ago and will soon take a job as a civil rights lawyer with the U.S. Justice Department, fighting discrimination in voting, housing and employment.
“As good as this country is, that’s what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. “I wanted to make this country better.”