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Immigrants turn citizens at naturalization service

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"I like the right to vote," Panama said. With the mayoral election looming, the 62-year-old Jackson Heights resident said after following local politics she would cast her ballot for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "But I don't like (Gov. George) Pataki," she added with a grimace.Panama and 265 fellow new Americans from 60 different nations were granted the right to vote when they became citizens in a ceremony hosted by the Department of Homeland Security's United States Citizenship and Immigration Services division at the Bayside college Friday. Countries represented ranged from Haiti to Honduras to Hong Kong, but all were united under the banner of becoming Americans."Today is a very important day," Timothy Houghton, supervisor of district adjudication for the citizenship agency, told the new Americans. "When you take the oath today, it's a good, joyous moment."At the ceremony, Queensborough President Dr. Eduardo Marti spoke about his own journey. Arriving in New York in 1960 as a teenager from Cuba, Marti said he was naturalized 10 years later with an understanding of what it means to be a American citizen. "I realized that finally I had become a partner in this American enterprise," he said. "But with that partnership come rights and responsibilities." Marti said this country's citizens have the responsibility of being an learned electorate armed with what Marti called the "most powerful weapon" available to a free society, the right to vote. "I urge you to educate yourselves in the process of democracy before you exercise that powerful weapon," he said.And with the polyglot nature of the city, one speaker said the new citizens would have no trouble retaining their native cultures."One of the wonderful things about this city is that you can enjoy your heritage here and still be good Americans," said City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis). "There's a gorgeous mosaic in this room."Many of the new citizens said they were thrilled, citing the benefits of the right to vote, ease of travel and a better selection of job opportunities.Shireen Mallik of Jackson Heights, a long pink scarf wrapped around her tunic, said that with her newly granted citizenship status, visiting her relatives back in Bangladesh would be easier."I'm so happy," Mallik said, smiling shyly. "Before she was scared about the interview," said Mallik's husband Mobarek, who gained his citizenship in 1996. "When she got the pass, she was very excited."Raissa Rzevskaya from Estonia said she was so happy that she was on the verge of tears."I'm very happy. I waited so long for this moment," said Rzevskaya, who lives in Far Rockaway. "America is a very democratic country. I love America. Every time I thank God that he took me here."Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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