O’FALLON – 36 individuals entered the Regency Center Friday morning as citizens of 18 different nations. However, they left as the newest citizens of the United States of America.
The United States District Court, Southern District of Illinois, held a naturalization ceremony on June 10. Judge Donald Wilkerson presided over the event and said it is a joyous celebration that he enjoys being a part of.
“This is one of the few things that judges look forward to doing, because everyone here is going to leave happy. That doesn’t happen all of the time,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson took a moment prior to the administration of the oath to explain some of the differences between the United States and the other nations of the world to those wishing to join it.
“This is not a country where you’re trapped in a class or station in life. This is a country where a man or woman can rise or fall based on their own abilities. You don’t have to be born of privilege to do well in the United States,” he said. “This is a country where you can speak your mind. Where you can say this judge or that president or that senator is a dumb no good charlatan. And guess what, the police won’t be knocking on your door. No one will be coming to your house asking you to explain that or taking you away so you’ll never be heard from again. You can speak your mind in America.”
Following the presentation of candidates by Acting United States Attorney James Porter, the 36 individuals took the oath of citizenship, renouncing any allegiance to their countries of origin and committing to support and defend the United States.
Following the oath, Wilkerson passed around a microphone and asked each of the new citizens to give their name, country of origin, and say a few words if they were so inclined. Many said their native country but quickly added they were now a United States citizen, as if they were so proud they couldn’t help but add that point.
Eberechukwu Anthony Okoro, who came to the United States from Nigeria, was overwhelmed following the ceremony.
“Its something I’ve always been looking forward to. I just can’t express how I feel right now,” said Okoro. “America is a country that everyone in the world wants to be a part of. My folks back home, my friends, they all wish they had the same opportunity like I did and its just awesome. Its really tough in the part of the world where I come from and I finally got an opportunity to use my talents, grow my potential.”
Okoro currently lives in Fairview Heights with his wife, Mobilia, who he met and married in the US.
“I met a lot of people that have come along like I did and they have the same story to tell. There are lots of opportunities. There are so many good things about this country that you cannot even express. Its a wonderful country and I’m so glad, I’m so happy, that I’m a part of it now,” Okoro said.
Johan Bester, who came to the US from South Africa, was also thrilled his struggle to become an American citizen was over.
“It’s pretty unreal in a sense. It’s great because I’ve had quite a battle, quite a struggle getting all of the red tape and administration finished. So its a relief. A great relief and a wonderful experience,” Bester said. “I started the process officially two years ago, but I’ve been living here in the states since 2003.”
Bester pointed out during his remarks following his oath that his family is a perfect example of the American Dream.
“My wife is South Korean, but she was adopted as a baby and so she’s as American as apple pie. My family is the representation of what America is all about. Its the land of opportunity for people from anywhere in the world. If you come with the right attitude you can make an impression on the world in America,” he said.
Bester and his family live in Glen Carbon.
Following the ceremony, each of the new citizens could pose for photos with the judge and other dignitaries present.