Rosa Rivera, holding an American flag at center, was one of the new U.S. citizens celebrated at a naturalization ceremony in South Portland on Thursday. Staff Photo by Emily Allen

For some, it means safety from conflict in their home countries. For others, it means certainty after years of navigating temporary citizenship. For many, it offers the right to vote in major elections.

For all of the 23 new Mainers, Thursday’s ceremony meant citizenship. They came from 17 different countries spanning several continents.

The nearly two dozen new U.S. citizens took an oath of allegiance to their country during a ceremony at the South Portland U.S. Citizens and Immigration Service field office attended by Gov. Janet Mills.

“Welcome home,” Mills said. “You’ve chosen to begin your new life as Americans in a state that is ready to welcome you home. Thank you for making that choice. Our state and our country need you.”

Rosa Rivera has been in Maine for 30 years since leaving her home in El Salvador.

“It was very hard to get to this point,” said Rivera, 47. She was joined by her daughters and husband, clutching a small American flag. She was given a manila envelope with a congratulatory message from the president, along with her certificate of U.S. citizenship.


A USCIS historian described Maine’s history with immigration dating back to the federal government’s use of House Island off the Portland coast before 1937 to process overflow immigrants from Ellis Island. Thursday’s new Mainers sat with their families and loved ones under a large white tent rippling in the wind. They recorded the public officials’ remarks on their phones while the King Middle School band and choir played patriotic songs during intermissions.

Muma Aljashaam, 38, sat in the back with her husband and child thinking about safety after coming to Maine from Iraq.

“She’s so happy about that, that finally she will get her citizenship,” said her husband, Hammood Joudah. “The best thing is safety. Because Iraq is not safe to live in,” Joudah said. “The feeling of being safe is a great thing.”

Jolie Tshola, who came to the United States five years ago from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said she was excited about the certainty that comes with citizenship.

“I am so happy. I am so very happy for that,” said Tshola, standing beside her husband, Nody Makoso.

“Now we will not have to renew the green card … I can vote in elections,” Tshola said.


USCIS officials who spoke ahead of the oath encouraged the new citizens to vote. Volunteers were walking around the grounds afterward, gathering information to help people register.

After all this time, Rivera said she was excited to vote for the next president.

“Days like this, I feel like I have the best job in the world,” USCIS Associate Director of Field Operations Michael Valverde said.

Valverde praised those gathered for naturalization, and the roughly 15 employees who work inside the field office, interviewing 16 to 20 people every day who Valverde said typically make it to naturalization. The office also helps people navigate green card services and other programs for immigration.

“They take the time, do the work, to make this community, this state, our nation, better in real and tangible ways,” Valverde said. “Every time someone joins our community, we absorb their skills, experiences. We get actually, tangibly more prosperous as a nation. What we do is a favor to ourselves.”

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