Naturalization ceremony welcomes 80 new U.S. citizens

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JEFFERSON CITY - Dozens gathered at the Missouri National Guard Headquarters on Friday to watch their family and friends become United States citizens. 

"I know this a huge accomplishment for her and she really, really, really wanted to do this," said Leticia Linares about her mother, Patricia Salinas. 

A total of 80 people from 36 different countries - including China, Togo, Russia, Mexico and Bolivia - recited the Oath of Allegiance to officially gain United States citizenship. 

"It means a lot to me," said Salinas. "I'll have a lot of opportunities, and just reaching that American dream and a better future for me and my family." 

Diyaniara Richards has been a legal resident for almost 15 years. She decided it was time to make the transition to become an official U.S. citizen. 

"It's an honor to call this place home," she said. "It means everything to me. I am in the place where I want to be." 

Richards is originally from Bolivia. She said the opportunities in America were too good to pass up.

"It's a pride because the opportunities that you get here are unfortunately not available in the countries that we come from," she said. "My soul mate was all the way over here and I didn't even know it." 

The new citizens had to go through the naturalization process which includes a written English test, a 100-question civics test, a series of interviews and a biometrics verification. 

"I studied for about three months for my tests," said Salinas. "After that, the process was pretty fast. It took me about five months." 

Magistrate judge Willie J. Epps, Jr. led Friday's ceremony. The former Air Force officer said it was a humbling experience for him. 

"It was very moving. I literally fought back tears at times," he said. "I know all the hard work that these individuals go through to become American citizens." 

Epps encouraged the new citizens to register to vote and take advantage of all their new freedoms. 

"American citizenship is very serious. The liberties we have, the freedoms we have, I don't take those for granted," he said. 

Naturalization ceremonies are held twice a year in Jefferson City. A state employee said that number might increase due to a higher interest in the naturalization process. 

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