- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

Minoo Hedayhi knows what it is like to not be free.
She grew up in Iran, an Islamic fundamentalist country "where I can't even express my thoughts without fear of the government controlling them," she said.
The Falls Church resident, 33, shed that cloak of fear yesterday when she joined 46 other people from 41 countries to become an American citizen at the Newseum's Freedom Park in Arlington.
The new citizens, many of whom had fled war and famine, pledged themselves to the world's greatest democracy on its 226th birthday.
Among them were an airline pilot from France, a Realtor from Guatemala and a cashier from Afghanistan. Eyes solemn, hands raised, they enunciated the oath renouncing loyalty to other nations on what was a withering but nevertheless "beautiful" day for the new Americans.
Some wore red, white and blue scarves, and proudly waved the Stars and Stripes handed to them by Newseum staff.
Benjamin Witherspoon, 80, fled Liberia to escape war. As he picked up his gray-and-green citizenship certificate, tears welled in his eyes.
"I was forced out of my country, but there is nowhere better to be than here, in America," he said, holding on to his cane. He was flanked by his daughter, Willie, who was already a citizen, and his son, Lester, who still was waiting to receive his papers.
So far this year, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has administered the oath of citizenship to 282,859 persons, a drop from 313,656 during the same period last year.
Joe Urschel, executive director of the Newseum, noted the significance of the location: Behind him was the arching glass of the Freedom Forum Journalists Memorial, honoring journalists who died on the job. It was a memorial to free speech and a free press, Mr. Urschel said.
"I applaud the courage and determination that brought each one of you here today," he told the crowd.
The Freedom Forum ceremony has been hosted at Freedom Park for five years, but has taken on more significance this year because of the events of September 11, Mr. Urschel said.
Phyllis A. Howard, deputy district director for the INS in Washington, administered the oath and distributed the certificates.
"Every day following today you must make the choice to be a good American," she said. "Your voice is just as important as everyone else you represent the fabric of America."
Charaf Haizoun from Morocco was given an Uncle Sam hat by his applauding friends soon after he took the oath. The software engineer from Falls Church said he came to America 12 years ago to attend school.
"It feels great to be a citizen it is about time," he said.
Mr. Haizoun, 31, said he planned to raise a family in this country and wanted to have the right to vote so he could participate in the decision-making process. "This country represents freedom in all its meaning. I love my birth country, but being here definitely opens up a lot of doors," he said.
For others, citizenship comes with a responsibility to others.
"I want to give support to my community, broaden the future for them," said Mario Argueta, 42, a Realtor who lives in Alexandria and is originally from Guatemala.
Fabrice Bosse, 30, a Leesburg, Va., resident, emigrated from France five years ago.
"It just feels great," the airline pilot said after the ceremony, beaming as he stood with his American-born wife and daughter. "I feel American."


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