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Borough’s newest citizens welcomed with open arms

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Leonard Dekhtyar was 14 when his father was shot by KGB agents for opposing the communist government in the Soviet Union in 1938. Sixty years later Dekhtyar arrived in the United States, and on Friday the former doctor and professor became an American citizen.

“I’m very happy,” Dekhtyar said. “I cannot say how happy.”

Dekhtyar was one of more than 300 new citizens from 60 different countries sworn in at a ceremony at Queensborough Community College in Bayside.

Queensborough President Eduardo Marti, an immigrant from Cuba who became a citizen more than 30 years ago, volunteered the college’s facilities for free and was one of several speakers to address the new citizens. Queensborough is known for its diverse student body, which includes students from 135 different countries, and was a source of pride for Marti as he welcomed the auditorium of immigrants.

“New York City is the place where immigrants become citizens, and Queensborough Community College is the place where immigrants become educated citizens,” Marti said. “Thirty-two years ago I went to the courthouse in Brooklyn and sat where you’re sitting. It’s a day I’ve never forgotten.”

While the new Americans represented a wide variety of attitudes, motivations and ethnic backgrounds, nearly all who were asked said they came to the United States for opportunities not available in their countries of origin.

Robert Tompororowski said he arrived in the United States eight years ago because it offered the combination of a strong economy and a style of living that he could not hope for when he was a resident of Poland. He added that becoming a citizen offers a variety of additional benefits.

“Now I can find a better job and be more secure in this country,” Tompororowski said. He said he was looking forward to “voting, being part of the political life here and getting federal jobs.”

Lisa Tan, who immigrated to the United States from the Philippines, showed a similar enthusiasm for participating in the political process, a common attribute among the new citizens.

“I feel very privileged today because it means I can exercise all the rights of being a citizen,” Tan said. “First and foremost is being able to vote and being able to represent myself as a part of this country.”

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) was scheduled to be the event’s keynote speaker, but was drawn away by last-minute business in Washington. But U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn) addressed the crowd and used his speech as an opportunity to remind the new citizens of their responsibilities and value to the community, while jokingly appealing for political support from the new voters.

“This is probably one of the most optimistic days of the year, and not just because you’re not eligible to vote for me,” Weiner said. “Especially here in Queens we understand how important it is for a group of immigrants to come here every so often and get us going again. The most creative and energetic people on the earth want to come here and be citizens of the United States.”

Guyana was the birthplace for 25 of the new citizens, the highest of any country. China and Bangladesh were also represented by more than 20 immigrants and India followed close behind with 19.

Reach Reporter Dan Trudeau by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

Posted 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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