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Berkshire County Honors Eight of its Newest U.S. Citizens

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Eight Berkshire County residents who immigrated to the United States from around the world will be sworn-in as naturalized United States citizens at a special Fourth of July ceremony in Northampton. Each of the eight residents was aided in their pursuit of citizenship by the Berkshire Immigrant Center (BIC), a resource and advocacy organization that serves the local immigrant population.

The naturalization ceremony will take place outdoors on the grounds of the Northampton Superior Courthouse on the corner of Main and King streets at 11 a.m. At 10, when the new Americans arrive to check in, there will be an "Immigrant Services Fair." Lynne Weintraub from the Jones Library in Amherst, Hilary Greene from the Berkshire Immigrant Center, and staff from Center for New Americans will offer information for newcomers about applying for citizenship and other immigration benefits, voter registration, and passport applications. There will be music and light refreshments.

The eight Berkshire County residents will be joined by 26 others from Western Massachusetts, including two members of the military. Berkshire residents include Alcia Jackson (Jamaica, age 24), Victor Hernandez (Mexico, age 33), Elena Ivan (Romania, age 59), the Vintimilla Family – Carlos (Ecuador, age 54), Aida Carlina (Ecuador, age 49), Maria (Ecuador, age 19), Marcella (Ecuador, age 20), and Diana Gonzalez (Colombia, age 27). At age 19, Maria Vintimilla will be the youngest member of the group to attain U.S. citizenship.

"The immigrant life is not easy. You must learn new things, new language and in the same time you are homesick because you can’t cut so early the old roots. Your mind is fighting between new and old. There is my country where I was born, where I have a lot of relatives, friends, my daughter, and a lot of memories. Here is a beautiful country that adopted me, and I must learn her culture, customs and history. Now I am very happy and proud that I will soon become an American citizen. I love and respect this country and the American people who welcomed and helped me so much! It will be a special pleasure for me to be have a swearing-in ceremony on July 4, 2010 - the American Independence Day," stated Elena Ivan.

Prior to 2002, citizenship oath ceremonies were held twice annually in Pittsfield Superior Court, but the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) discontinued this practice citing that it was too costly. Since that time, Berkshire County residents have had to travel to the Boston area for their oath ceremonies.

"We are thrilled that USCIS is finally holding a ceremony closer to home and on a holiday perfectly fitting for the occasion. Celebrating our newest Americans on the day we mark our country’s birth highlights the importance of our immigrant communities and their contributions today as well as to the founding of this country. It is also an opportunity for the Berkshire Immigrant Center to honor the immigrants we assist in their quest to become active members of the civic life of our community," stated Greene, director of the Berkshire Immigrant Center.

To obtain U.S. citizenship, one must hold legal permanent resident (green card) status for a minimum of five years (three years if married the whole time to a U.S. citizen), take an exam on U.S. history and civics, demonstrate proficiency in the English language, and be of "good moral character," among other requirements. The Berkshire Immigrant Center offers assistance with every aspect of the naturalization process including screening for eligibility, application support, disability and fee waivers, legal assistance, transportation, advocacy with USCIS, and English language, history and civics classes.

For more information about the center, call 413-445-4881 or email info@berkshireic.com.
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