Sanjeshni Lata has spent more than half her life in the United States. But the native of Fiji felt like she really was home after being sworn in Thursday as a citizen.
“I wanted to serve the American citizens as being an American,” said Lata, 25, of Richland. “And show the United States that I am capable of doing everything an American can.”
U.S. District Court Senior Judge Edward Shea led Lata and 22 others in the Oath of Allegiance, before turning the Richland ceremony over to U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco. Hastings used his own family as an example of one that can achieve success in America.
“When they came from what we used to call the Old Country, northern Europe, they were not the elites, and they came here like everybody else to better their lives,” Hastings said. “Obviously the results of my generation, past generations, have proven that this idea of liberty and freedom is really the individual idea that empowers individuals to attain what they want. And you are part now of a government that recognizes that, and I think that’s very important.”
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In addition to Fiji, the new citizens came from Mexico, Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Colombia and China.
After the ceremony at the Federal Courthouse, Hastings told the Herald that Shea invited him to naturalization ceremonies in the past, but he hadn’t been able to fit it into his schedule.
He encouraged the new citizens to exercise their right to vote. They were able to immediately take the first step toward that by registering to vote as they left the courtroom.
Franklin County Auditor Matt Beaton said of the 14 new citizens who registered, half live in Franklin County.
His Benton County counterpart, Brenda Chilton, was on hand to help those who live there, while representatives of the League of Women Voters assisted people who lived elsewhere.
“It was fantastic,” Beaton said. “I talked with Mr. Shea and said we’d be happy to be a part of that any time they held it.”
Dongying Yan, 43, of Sunnyside, said she will vote as soon as she can. The China native loves the freedom offered in the United States.
“It was so-so,” she said of China. “I like it here much better.”
Now that she’s officially an American, Lata plans to go to New Zealand to study for three years and eventually return to the U.S.
“The United States has many more opportunities than the Fiji Islands,” she said. “Technology-wise, it’s very advanced. It’s a totally different culture.”