- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

Pakistan-born Zafar ul Islam yesterday celebrated the most auspicious Flag Day of his 22-year residence in the United States: He became a U.S. citizen along with 89 other nationals from 44 countries, at George Washington's family home in Mount Vernon.

"I'm very proud of myself," said Mr. Islam. "This is the biggest day of my life. I feel very lucky to get this American citizenship."

As the United States continues its war on terrorism in the Middle East, about 19 immigrants from Afghanistan, Israel, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan joined Mr. Islam in taking the oath of U.S. citizenship during a rainy ceremony on the lawn behind Mount Vernon's mansion.

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen," they said in unison, some waving miniature American flags, some clutching them in their hands. "I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

Before administering the oath of citizenship, Warren Lewis, director of the Washington office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), told the immigrants they should take extra pride in becoming U.S. citizens as the country recovers from the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"The peace and tranquillity we enjoyed as a nation were challenged," Mr. Lewis said. "We are a nation that is stronger than ever. We must remember what American principles our flag represents. It did not come without a price."

Rani Bibi, also from Pakistan, expressed joy over earning her citizenship, although she said she could not sever her ties with her homeland.

"I'm very happy and my heart is glad," Miss Bibi said through an interpreter. "I still feel like I have an allegiance to Pakistan, but now I feel like I belong here and I feel I can be a proud citizen."

The ceremony was sponsored by Mrs. Robert E. Lee IV, wife of the great-grandson of the Confederate general, and was co-hosted by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.

Mrs. Lee, the association's vice regent for Maryland, said holding the ceremony at the home of the first president made the day more special. "To have it here is very important. They must be grateful. It must be so much more difficult to become a citizen after September 11."

Tension between the United States and some Middle Eastern countries should not deter the new citizens from feeling like a part of this country, said Mr. Lewis, the INS official.

"It's as much your country as it is mine," he told the newly naturalized citizens. "Do not take your liberty for granted. Your voice is just as important as everyone else's."

Mr. Islam said the events of September 11 highlight the similarities between Pakistan and the United States.

"Pakistan and America [are] like the same two countries both are being terrorized," he said. "Terrorism can come to any country."

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, welcomed the new citizens into the community, saying they carry on the pioneer spirit many thought would end with westward expansion.

"The pioneer spirit lives on with each new immigrant," Mr. Davis said. "Anyone can come to the United States and become an American."

INS statistics show that 282,859 immigration applicants for naturalization took the oath of citizenship through the first seven months of this fiscal year, a 10 percent decrease from the like period last year.

Roya Fatima Yousufzai, who moved from Afghanistan about 11 years ago, said she feels more like a part of her new country.

"I think I'm proud to be American," said Mrs. Yousufzai, 28. "I was really little when we lived in Afghanistan. I feel more American."

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