PORTLAND, Maine — Kyanda Mulonda, 24, has plans for this fall.
“I’m going to vote,” he said with a smile, just before raising his right hand at a naturalization ceremony on Friday at City Hall, where 22 refugees from around the world became American citizens.
Mulonda, who fled political violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo five years ago, was among a group of refugees from Bosnia, Congo-Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, Kosovo, Palestine, Somalia, and Sudan who took the oath of allegiance and became Maine’s newest Americans.
It was the first time a naturalization ceremony was held at City Hall in Portland, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesperson Paula Grenier said.
Each citizenship candidate at Friday’s ceremony had already been given refugee status by the U.S. government. All were fleeing persecution or violence. They also waited the requisite five years, went through an extensive background check, demonstrated an understanding of the English language and passed a test of their knowledge of U.S. history and civics before being eligible for citizenship.
The group ceremony was held in conjunction with Monday’s World Refugee Day — which the United Nations General Assembly in 2000 designated to celebrate the contribution of refugees around the world.
“We’re doing this today in honor of World Refugee Day,” said Sally Blauvelt, field office director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “which is honoring refugees and celebrating contributions that they’ve made worldwide and the struggles that they’ve gone through to get here, on this journey, today.”
Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling thanked the new citizens for for their courage and said he hoped they would consider living in Maine, and Portland in particular, for the rest of their lives.