More than 130 people become U.S. citizens during Naturalization Ceremony
Applying to become a U.S. citizen can be a time-consuming, often difficult process, but if you spoke to the people at the Naturalization Ceremony in Anchorage Monday, they would say it was worth it.
Nitzia Loaiza, 29, was among the 136 people who took the oath to officially become a U.S. citizen at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium at the University of Alaska - Anchorage Monday.
Loaiza moved to Alaska from Mexico with her mother when she was eight years old. Her mom had previously worked seasonal jobs in the fishing industry.
"It was a big move for her," Loaiza said. "My mom was the youngest of five and she was the only one from her whole family who moved up here."
Loaiza said the current climate of immigration policy discussions slightly worried her about her permanent residency status, which is what motivated her to work hard and prepare for the citizenship test. It was a process that took around six months.
"I have a good job here and my friends," she said. "So it was, 'Better make it official before something might change.'"
But Loaiza said she's never felt out of place or unwelcome, despite not being a citizen until Monday.
Melissa Sullivan, one of Loaiza's friends who attended the event, said the moment couldn't have come for a better person. Sullivan recalls how Nitzia had asked for her friends to go with her to volunteer at Bean's Cafe for her birthday, rather than buying her presents.
"The world needs more Nitzias," Sullivan said.
Nicolle Welch said she was proud to hear when Loaiza announced she'd be taking the test to become a U.S. citizen.
"We were just there to support her as friends," she said. "Be there with her family and support her and get her through the process."
Sen. Lisa Murkowski also gave a speech during the ceremony.
"When you think about the individuals that we saw here today, those that raised their hand to say, 'I affirmatively act to be a United States citizen,' that to me is as emotional and as touching as most anything an individual can do," Murkowski said during an interview with KTVA after the event. "It is so purposeful. It is an individual who is saying, I may have been born and raised in the Philippines or born and raised in Sudan, but I want to be a United States citizen."
Murkowski also commented on the RAISE Act during the interview, which is a proposal backed by President Donald Trump that would change the current immigration process to make it merit-based. The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, would mirror the merit-based immigration systems in Canada and Australia, according to the White House. It strives to reduce immigration numbers of low-skilled and unskilled labor coming to the U.S. Supporters of this legislation want to shift the immigration system away from family ties.
"It is important to make sure we attract those who can offer professional expertise and I think it's also important to recognize that so many who have come to this country might not have had a higher degree," Murkowski said. "But what they had was a higher commitment and a resolve and a desire, a passion to be an American. Once here, they contributed in incredible ways and they now are individuals who are leading in our communities, in our states and in our nation. I think while it might be fair to reexamine the lawful immigration process, I want to make sure that we don't forget that we were a nation that was built on immigrants."